Langford History Soc Crest
Langford History Society

People of Langford

Peregrine Piper: an article on an early nineteenth century incomer to Langford and his family, with information about nineteenth century Langford.

A W Lawrence: Lawrence of Arabia’s brother, a distinguished Cambridge academic, lived in Langford.

Philip Wright: Growing up in Post War Langford – Phillip tells his story of those post- war years.

Herbert Thompson: MM, the Cobbler Hero. The story of Langford’s First World War hero.

The Dew family: (a note contributed from New Zealand by Eva Mabel Dew’s son).

Michael Rutt - Memories of Langford: ‘While there is still time, I’m 83! Memories of Langford is by Michael Rutt: the author of The People at the Long Ford, the only history of Langford,

Josef Jan Hanus - One of the Few:
It is believed that Josef Jan Hanus was posted to RAF Henlow, hence residence in Langford Contributed by John Shipman

Peregrine Piper’s Grandfather Clock by Michael Rutt

[This article first appeared in the Bedfordshire Magazine in Autumn 1970. We are very grateful to Mr Rutt for permission to reproduce it, slightly updated, here.]

Peregrine Piper bought his grandfather clock from George Pepper, the Biggleswade clockmaker, about the time of the battle of Waterloo. He was a Norfolk man who had moved from Stonefield in that county to Henlow before 1808. Described as a victualler in that year, he borrowed money from Thomas Paternoster, the Hitchin bookseller, to buy land in Langford. The money was used to buy Scrup’s Field which contained ten acres of land. This field today is occupied by Garfield Farm, a disused gravel pit and houses facing onto Church Street [Since developed as a new housing estate]. Until just after World War II it was part of a recreation ground. Peregrine lived in a cottage in the corner of this field at the junction of Water Lane (now Church Street) and Back Lane (now Station Road).

Peregrine’s name appears for the first time in the Land Tax returns in 1808, and in 1810 he was paying thirteen shillings on Scrup’s field and five shillings on the Midsummer Meadow in Cow Common, land which was near the river at the southern boundary of the parish adjoining Henlow. The name Scrups perpetuates the name of a medieval holder of the Manor of Holme with Langford. In 1398 Richard le Scrope granted land in Langford to the Abbey and Convent of Westminster and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster were later lords of the manor. Scroup’s Farm at Holme in the parish of Biggleswade still bears the name of the medieval holder of the manor. Peregrine added to his land in 1819 by a purchase of another part of Scrup’s field from Edward Lindsell of Biggleswade, from whom he also rented land.

Tithe Farm, Langford 1885

Tithe Farm, Langford, about 1885

Until 1829 the village of Langford was open fields except for the land immediately within the settlement area. Enclosure in the latter area had taken place during Tudor and early Stuart times, since in 1619 an inventory of the property of Joan Underwood, a widow of Langford, taken on 26 April in that year, states, ‘for half the grane growing in a cloase called Scraps, £8’. A retired market gardener in Langford told the present writer that in 1967 he noticed barley growing in the part of Scrups field which is still arable for the first time since his childhood days in the 1890s. Under modern farming techniques the cereal crops are grown on the heavier boulder clay soils in the east of the parish.

The prosperity and public standing of Peregrine Piper increased throughout the decade of Waterloo and the reign of George IV. He was a juryman in 1820, a Land Tax assessor for Langford in 1822 and an assistant to the Commissioners for Inclosure in 1827. He died in June 1829 at the age of 65. His will together with a codicil to it was proved by his eldest son, Edmund Piper, at Bedford on 27 June, 1829. The sum of the estate was below £450. Peregrine’s original instructions to his executors were to sell all his land and his house, the proceeds to be divided between his five children. The codicil instructed them to allow his widow, Hannah Piper, ‘so long as she remains my widow’, to retain the property and on her death it was to pass to his sons and daughters. The elder daughter, Elizabeth Isherwood, was singled out in the will to ensure that her heirs and successors inherited their share of money and land. The family link with Norfolk was not broken since a cottage and an acre and a half of land in Stonefield, in which Peregrine had a half-share was bequeathed to his second son William. The latter was still farming Scrup’s field at the time of his death in 1874.

The fact that Elizabeth Isherwood was specially cared for in her father’s will was because she had been widowed whilst still young and had a family of small children. Although she later married again, her son Robert was taken care of and brought up by his uncle Edmund who had no children of his own. Elizabeth lived at Southill with her second husband who was a cabinet maker by trade. Her last descendant died at Hitchin about 1960. Edmund Piper and Robert Isherwood went into partnership as farmers in Langford and by 1875 they were working some 100 acres of land. Edmund had the consolation of seeing his nephew attain prosperity in his declining years. Oral tradition has it that he went very deaf in later life and that the Vicar, Rev Christopher Ewbank, would ask him, as he leaned on the front gate of Tithe Farm on summer Sunday evenings, to come to church. The answer was that he was too old and too deaf to hear the sermon. In the present writer’s family he is still referred to as ‘Uncle Piper’, surely a relic of the Victorian manner in which aunts and uncles were called by their surname. Much of the land farmed by the firm of Piper and Isherwood was rented from the estate of the Welby family and when this estate was sold in 1875 after the death of the Rev Montague E Welby, they purchased Tithe Farm and the field called Bury Garden which was attached to it.

Tithe Farm, Langford 1906

Tithe Farm 1906, Mrs Frederick Isherwood and her niece, later to become
Mrs Margaret Rutt

Langford in the nineteenth century was a village without a squire, but in one sense it was a closed village since much of the land was owned by an absentee landlord. The Welby estate consisted of 662 acres of arable and pasture land. They were a Lincolnshire family and the last landlord of their Langford lands was the third son, by his second marriage, of Sir William Welby, who had been created a baronet in 1801. They had bought the estate from Sir John Fagg in the late eighteenth century. When the estate was sold Langford became an ‘open’ village in a sociological sense because the yeoman farmers acquired the land and became the influential figures in the parish which had no squire and only minor gentry and the Vicar to represent a different and higher class. Closed villages tended to have a smaller population of about 250 people. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century the population of Langford rose to over a thousand, after it had become an open village. This compares with, for example, Southill and Old Warden, which have remained small to this day because of the presence of a major landlord owning all or most of the village. Edmund Piper was a typical yeoman farmer, taking part in village affairs, in common with many other such farmers who had bought land from the Welby estate, and from other landlords when the manorial system of landholding broke up, and after the enclosure of the common fields.

Langford Map 1830

Langford in 1830 and 1875

The Welby estate was sold by auction at the SwanHotel, Biggleswade, in December 1875 under the gavel of Mr Calthorp. The catalogue described the land as ‘being in high condition, great part of it from the nature of the soil is specially adapted, like the adjacent Biggleswade market garden land, for garden produce, and the contemplated Langford Siding on the railway, for which land has been purchased by the Company, will give great facility for procuring manure and delivering produce’. It went on to say that there was reason to believe coprolites existed under part of the land, ‘the geological formation of which is similar to that in which they are worked to a large extent in the immediate neighbourhood’. This is a reference to the coprolite workings at Sandy and Potton which were of considerable importance for use as fertiliser at this time.

Tithe Farm, Langford 1968

Tithe Farm in 1968

Edmund Piper and Robert Isherwood thus acquired the farm of which they were already tenants. This consisted of the farm house [see illustration], the Tithe Barn, which stood almost at right-angles to the road, another range of barns (blown down in a gale in the 1930s), a fourstand cow-house, a fourstand stable, waggon hovels, a chaffhouse and a nag stable. They also rented the Glebe land between Tithe Farm and the churchyard. This piece of Glebe was probably part of the original endowment of the church to the Knights Templars in 1144. A vicarage house stood next to it until the seventeenth century. At the Archdeacon’s visitation in 1707 it was stated that there was no vicarage house, ‘the land where it stood having been laid to a churchyard’. A Glebe terrier of 1605 describes this vicarage with a full range of barns and the Parsonage Barn, now Edmund Piper’s Tithe Barn. In 1749 the incumbent had leased the Tithe Barn to Thomas Ashby of Holme Mill and Anthony Thody of Langford. Their first lease was for twelve years at a rental of £120. They were to keep it in good repair with ‘principle {sic} timbers, lime lath and nails’. They also rented the Glebe. The lease was renewed for a further seven years in 1761. For their money they collected the tithes of corn, grain and hay, which were ‘to be laid on the premises’.

dmund Piper lived until 1882. He was the same age as the century. The present writer was the youngest child in Langford at the time of the Silver Jubilee of George V and received a commemorative mug. The oldest inhabitant at that time was Mr Jesse Street, ninety-four years old. Mr Street, as a younger man, had worked for ‘Teddy’ Piper at Tithe Farm. Edmund’s sole heir was his nephew Robert Isherwood and he, for a further thirteen years, farmed the land with his son Frederick Isherwood. Robert died in 1895, a month after his son had married Elizabeth Hart of Kempston, who had come to Langford as a school teacher, a year or so previously.

The land at the rear of Tithe Farm is known as the Bury Garden. The fact that it is called ‘Bury’ points to its having a connection with a large house. In 1951 the meadow land near the Mill and at the west side of Bury Garden was levelled to convert it to arable use. When this levelling was done a site was unearthed which appeared to be the remains of a house. Unfortunately this was not recorded at the time. In the writer’s opinion this was the site of the hall or house of the Manor of Langford Rectory which was held for many-centuries by The Knights Templar. There was an oral tradition of a house near Bury Garden and drains leading to the site were known on the field. Its position close to the church also fits into this theory. In 1185 the Templars had income from the curia fratrum, the hall or house of the brothers; and the fructum gardini, the fruits of the garden.

Tithe Barn Fire, Langford

The ruins of the Tithe Barn, May 1945. Edmund Piper’s wagon hovels partly obscure the house

Frederick Isherwood was a well-liked and respected figure in Langford. At various times he held the offices of churchwarden, parish clerk, assistant overseer and rate collector. He continued the family farming business begun by his great grandfather Peregrine Piper. He bought the piece of Glebe land adjoining Tithe Farm when the living of Langford was augmented after World War I. Mr Isherwood died in 1927 and the old Tithe Barn was burned down in a disastrous fire on I2 May, 1945. This was not the first fire near the church. On the site of the old school (now the Church hall) was a wheelwright’s shop owned by Edward Smith which burned down in 1864. The site cleared by this fire enabled the land to be purchased for the building of the school. Before it was replaced by the Church Hall it was used as a dining room for the newer school on the opposite side of the road.

The century and a half since Peregrine Piper began farming in Langford has seen a complete change in land tenure and agricultural techniques. The ‘procuring of manure’ is no longer necessary when artificial fertilisers and chemical sprays are responsible for the brussels sprouts, barley and market garden produce for which this part of East Bedfordshire is so well known. This was the period, from 1870 to 1945, when very few farmhouses were built in the English countryside: a time when the English farmer felt the competition of imported food in refrigerated ships from the other side of the world. A period of two agricultural depressions when marginal land went out of cultivation and land which was arable became pasture.

Peregrine Piper’s grandfather clock now stands in a small modern bungalow in Langford and keeps excellent time. His Bible, dictionary, barometer and pewter candle snuffers are in the same bungalow. Maybe old Peregrine would turn in his grave in Langford churchyard to see the village today but at least he could still tell the time from his clock.

The photographs which illustrate this article were kindly loaned by Mrs Margaret Rutt.


Lawrence of Arabia’s brother once lived in Langford

Arnold Walter Lawrence (2 May 1900–31 March 1991) was one of Britain’s leading authorities on classical sculpture and architecture. He was Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge University in the 1940s, and in the late 1950s in Accra he founded the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board as well as the National Museum of Ghana. He was the youngest brother of T E Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’), and was his literary executor. T E’s fame was a great burden for A W, especially because most people saw A W Lawrence as the brother of someone else.

He was born in Oxford, on 2 May 1900, the youngest of five sons born to Sir Thomas Robert Tighe Chapman (1846–1919), and their mother Sarah Junner (1861–1959). The parents were unmarried and took the names ‘Thomas Robert Lawrence’ and ‘Sarah Lawrence’ to be able to raise their children together. Their second son was T E Lawrence, who later became ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Arnold Lawrence and he were close.

The Lawrence children were brought up in Oxford by their mother, Sarah, who was very religious. This contributed to Arnold Lawrence’s outspoken anti-religious views. He once stated ‘All religion is vermin’. He attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys before joining New College, Oxford, obtaining a diploma in Classical Archaeology in 1920 and graduating with a third in literae humaniores in 1921. Classical archaeology was his second choice: the young A W Lawrence had wanted to specialise in South-American archaeology, but no British university offered courses.

Arnold Lawrence was a student at the British School at Rome in 1921 and then at the British School at Athens until 1926. In 1923 Lawrence worked on the excavation of Ur directed by Leonard Woolley, and under whom T E Lawrence had excavated at Carchemish before World War I. In 1925 Lawrence married Barbara Inness Thompson (1902–1986), with whom he had one child, Jane Helen Thera Lawrence (1926–1978).

Lawrence was the model for the statue of ‘Youth’ (1920), sculpted by Kathleen Scott, at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

After T E Lawrence’s death, A W Lawrence promoted his older brother’s memory, collecting papers about him, and condemning any misrepresentation of his character in the press. He wrote widely on the subject of Greek architecture and sculpture as well as on fortifications in West Africa. In 1930 he was elected to the Laurence readership in Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. In 1944 he succeeded A J B Wace as Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge University and as such was elected to a Fellowship at Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1951 he obtained a Leverhulme research fellowship for the study of ancient fortifications, a subject inherited from T E Lawrence. In 1951 he resigned his post at Cambridge to become the Professor of Archaeology at the University of Ghana where he established a National Museum and was the Secretary and Conservator of the Monuments and Relics Committee. He resigned these posts in 1957 and soon after settled at Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire, later moving to Bouthwaite. Eventually, when neither he nor his wife could drive, they moved to Langford, close to where their two grandchildren were living. There his wife died unexpectedly in 1986. In 1987–1988 Lawrence moved to the house of an old friend and fellow archaeologist in Devizes. Lawrence was a Fellow of the British Academy. He died at Devizes, Wiltshire on 31 March 1991 aged 90.
[Source: Wikipedia.


Growing up In Post-War Langford

This is part of a much longer document sent to Langford History Society by Philip Wright, who was born and brought up in Langford and is now retired and living in Lincolnshire. He also sent some photographs which are included in the story below.

In the beginning
I was born on 1 March 1939 (St David’s day) and I can’t remember much before 1944.
I was born at 8 East Road, Langford. The house was a three up/three down end of terrace row that belonged to my Great Uncle Charles Wright, a builder, who also lived in Langford. I lived at No 8 for about 14 years with my Mum whose name was Evelyn but everybody called her Ev (maiden name Underwood), my Dad, Ronald Alfred (Ron) and my brother Denis Arthur who was 10 years older than me and his birthday was March 11. Before Denis was born, Mum and Dad had twin girls that lived for only a few days but they never spoke to me about it.

My grandparents
I never knew any of my grandparents although I can vaguely remember going on the bus to Girtford near Sandy to see one of Mum’s sisters called Aunt Doll (Dorothy) and there being an old chap there with a grey beard who I think was Mum’s Dad. He died when I was four.
I got a good impression of Dad’s Mum as being a stern woman who wouldn’t tolerate nonsense in any shape or form – Denis getting into trouble with her several times. She lived at 8 East Road before Mum and Dad and she died of cancer there. Dad told a story about her and some fatty beef she got from a butchers in Biggleswade. It was a Saturday and the beef was for Sunday dinner. When she got the beef home and discovered that it was fatty, she put her hat and coat on and walked the three miles back to Biggleswade and into Mr Warren’s butchers shop which was full of customers; she plonked the beef on the counter and said to Mr Warren ‘There you are Mr Warren, you can take your piece of fatty beef home and cook it!’, and then walked out of the shop.

No 8 East Road Langford
The house didn’t have a bathroom or hot water and all of the rooms were small, especially the loo which was outside attached to the garden shed and was a smelly bucket with a wooden seat and daily newspaper (the Daily Herald) torn up and hanging on a nail for toilet paper. The bucket got emptied once a week by the men from the Council called the night cart. They used to arrive in the middle of the night and wake everybody up. In the early days the cart was pulled by a horse and apparently on one icy night the horse slipped on the ice and tipped the cart over!
There were two bedrooms and a box room with a bed so I shared a bed with Denis.
I had a bath on Friday nights in a tin bath in the kitchen filled from a copper boiler. There always seemed to be a lot of visitors on a Friday (mainly wanting owed money because it was Dad’s payday) who had to pass through the kitchen to the sitting room.
We had a front door but it was never used. There was also a ‘front room’ which was only used at Christmas and this room was like a magic room to a five year old, with a posh suite of furniture and fitted carpets and ornaments that people had given as presents over the years. It made Christmas even more magical because a coal fire was lit in the fireplace. Thinking back, it didn’t make much sense because the rest of the year was pretty cramped.
East Road was a straight country lane that didn’t go anywhere and was about half a mile long and had mainly fields both sides apart from our row of six houses on one side and six rows of four council houses on the other. Opposite us in the first block of council houses lived Mum’s sister, Aunt Floss (Florence) and Uncle Bert Foster and their two daughters, Daphne and Audrey. As a toddler, I used to spend time at their house, running across the road to see them (there wasn’t much traffic – just the odd horse and cart) and was greeted with the cry ‘Here he comes again!’ We got on well and at Christmas they would come to us on Christmas Day afternoon and evening and we would go to theirs on Boxing Day.
On Christmas Eve, Dad, Denis, Uncle Bert and Geoff (Daphne’s husband), used to go to the Wrestlers pub in Langford and come home very merry. They could be heard singing halfway up East Road and it was the only time each year that I knew Dad to get tipsy – I don’t suppose he could afford to the rest of the year. One of the traditions at the Wrestlers at Christmas Eve was to fill a ‘guzunda’ with beer and cooked sausages for the more daring to have a free drink and eat from!
Also on Christmas Eve the Methodist Church choir went round the village carol singing and arrived at East Road about midnight. It was quite magical because by then I would be in bed waiting for Father Christmas to come and then to hear all the familiar carols being sung in the road outside. Bill Rook had a powerful bass voice and could be heard above the rest. The next morning the Salvation Army would play carols and both would come knocking for donations.
Many years later when I became a member of the choir and went carol singing, I remember Denis and Dad joining the choir half way round, much to my embarrassment, because they had just come out of the Wrestlers and although Denis had a good bass voice, Dad usually sang out of tune.
In those days nobody had a car, telephone or television but every house had a piano. East Road remained fairly static and nobody moved away and so you got to know everybody in the road and their children and they seemed to go to the Methodist Chapel or Sally Army. Some Christmases, the neighbours would come in and I remember Denis’s girlfriend, Cynthia Bates, who had hopes of becoming a concert pianist (that’s why her Dad stopped the relationship) playing the piano and Jess Smith playing the violin and everybody singing. Wonderful!

Langford Children's Christmas Party 1950Langford Labour Party Children’s Christmas Party, Church House, 1950

At the other end of the row of houses from us lived Mr & Mrs Smith, to me a friendly elderly couple who welcomed everybody into their house. They had three grown up children – Nancy, Kath and Bob. Nancy married Tom Chessum who went into partnership with Dad to form a small building firm called Chessum & Wright, employing half a dozen bricklayers and labourers. Tom did most of the admin and pricing and Dad did most of the work. I was friendly with Richard their eldest child. Kath married the aforementioned Jess Smith and Bob was a jovial person about 12 years older than me. He was blinded in one eye whilst playing as a child. We played in the village cricket team when I was about 19. To paint a bit more of the picture, three doors from us lived Mr & Mrs Brown, who were strict members of the same Wesleyan Methodist Church (we used to call it chapel). Both Dad and Denis had their funeral memorial service there. Mr Brown used to run the Band of Hope on Tuesday evenings and show picture slides of cartoon characters, followed by prayers and orange squash and a talk about the evils of alcohol.
Mr & Mrs Brown lived a very sober life, following their Methodist beliefs. Mr Brown worked at Langford Miil driven by the River Ivel, where flour was produced from the local wheat.
The garden at 8 East Road was big because it was the end house and had land at the side. Dad was a keen gardener as was his sister, another Aunt Ida. The garden had vegetables all year, a big orchard with grassy play areas, fish pond, rockery, nut trees and sheds. Dad built a brick air-raid shelter for protection during the Second World War, partly underground in the garden and was used by us and the neighbours when the air-raid siren sounded. To a toddler like me it was a creepy sort of place that was dark, smelly, damp, and the steps leading down into it looked as though they were going into hell. During the wet weather it partly filled with water and had to be hand-pumped out before it could be used. Then it attracted hoards of frogs and toads who liked the fish pond as well. I remember one year, there were so many frogs, that we had to kill them by treading on them. What a mess! The bomb shelter was covered with earth which made a mound for a rockery which Dad planted up to look attractive. I have a photo of the fish pond with the East Road gang on the little bridge that Dad built. I fell in the fish pond a few times and on warm summer Sunday afternoons, Mum and me would have our tea by the pond, before Dad got up – he always went to bed Sunday afternoons.
On some Sunday evenings after tea Mum and me would go for a walk along the lane and meet and pass the time of day with the neighbours. East Road was a narrow country lane that only went to the railway line and after that it was a farm road that went to Cott Lodge which was a derelict house that got bombed in the war but it still had fruit trees growing and brambles and weeds. In total about a mile long. Mum and me walked as far as Cott Lodge picking wild flowers and grasses and eating blackberries and dewberries from the roadside ditches.
On Church Street opposite the Plough pub was a small general shop run by Ida Bryant and her little old mum. I had to go to the shop for Dad’s tobacco and when I asked Ma Bryant how much that would be, she said ‘That’ll be fer an ferpnce aipny.’ Translated, it was four shillings and four and a half old pennies. Our groceries came from Hawkins Shop in Langford and Violet Gentle came round on her bike on Tuesdays to take Mum’s order for delivery on Friday.
Dad employed Ernie Handscombe to do the carpentry and joinery work on the building sites and Ernie was also the village undertaker.
The railway line was the focal point for the East Road gang, gathering there mainly to ‘train spot’ with the Ian Allan ABC of railway engines that worked on the LNER line. The little book was published every year with names and numbers of all the engines – the aim being to cross off as many as possible that you had seen or ‘spotted’. It was all steam engines then and we used to put pennies on the track to see how much the engines would flatten them. Sometimes the girls would come up there as well.
My first real friend as a toddler was Gillian Rogers, the little girl who lived opposite and whose big brother, Clive, was friends with Denis. She also had two older sisters – Megan and June. Gillian and I used to play together and occasionally played football. One day she fell over and both started laughing but Gillian was crying because she had broken her wrist in the fall. We would also play hide and seek, mums and dads and other children’s games.
The East Road gang grew up together and consisted of Richard Garner (next door neighbour), Gillian Rogers, John Smith, Richard Chessum (who didn’t live there, but his grandparents did), Muriel Brown who lived opposite and a few years older, Mavis Brown (not related to Muriel), and various hangers on who lived in nearby streets – Barry Breed who later became my best friend and me his Best Man at his wedding.

East Road Gang 1946
East Road Gang at 8 East Road, April 1946: Left to right: Philip Wright, John Smith, Mavis Brown, Muriel Brown, Ivy Dilley, Gillian Rogers, Betty Spicer

On 5 November in the village there would be four or five bonfires in different areas and a bit of competition to see who could build the biggest and best. It kept us busy after school and weekends for several weeks and we would gather stuff using prams, wheelbarrows, trucks etc and would go round the houses knocking on doors and asking everybody if they had anything. Sometimes we got things and sometimes we were told to come back later. I think people used it as a reminder to clear out sheds and attics that had not been touched since last year. When we had finished the evening’s collection we would sift through it to see if there was anything worth taking home. We also made a guy and sat him in the wheelbarrow and went round the houses asking for a penny for the guy. We saved the money for fireworks. One year somebody from another gang lit our bonfire before the day, much to everybody’s disappointment.
The bonfire was built near the track running past Dad’s sheds and I can see him now feeling the wooden shed to see if was about to catch fire. We all saved money to buy fireworks and the whole street turned out for the show and bought soup and cakes to eat during the show. The next evening because the fire embers were still glowing, we all met up again and baked some jacket potatoes in the fire and ate them for our suppers with some butter – probably the first barbecues we had.
We played football and cricket in the road with a tennis ball and used garden gates as goals and wooden boxes as wickets – it served me well later on, teaching me ball sense and cricket skills.
One day when I was on my own in the back garden orchard, it must have been early autumn because there were a lot of fallen apples about. I had seen some cricket and marvelled at the throwing ability to the wicketkeeper from the boundary. I looked at the apples and wondered if I could throw an apple over the roof of our row of houses. I wasn’t too sure of myself but plucked up the courage to have a go. So with my best throw the apple soared right over the top of our roof much to my delight. Mum then called me in for my tea and a few minutes later there came a knock at the door. It was Vera Brown from the row opposite saying that somebody had thrown an apple through her front window and it looked like one of our apples. She wasn’t very pleased and my only comment was ‘Why does everybody think it was me?’

Langford Primary School
I went to Langford Primary School which was about 10 minutes’ walk away. My first teacher was Miss Lowry and the headmistress Miss Bowen. She was matronly, not young but I liked her. In my middle years there we had a man teacher and did the school play, ‘Wind in the Willows’, in the Church Hall, called the tin room because it was made of corrugated iron sheeting. I had been given the part of the horse and we had to make a horse’s head out of cardboard to wear in the play.
All the boys played football at playtime in the playground and everybody knew everybody. I had a disagreement with one of my mates, Brian Handscombe, about a football match that we organised against Henlow, the next village.
To resolve it, he said the only way was to have a fight. All the school got to know about it and when I arrived it was like a circus ring with everybody sitting down, ready for the fight to begin. It turned out to be a bit of a non-event because we finished up wrestling each other to the ground and then going home.
My first girlfriend was at school and her name was Olive Sargent and we liked each other and made up foursomes with Brian Handscombe and Eileen Bygraves.
Dad never came into school at all and Mum came once to a Christmas sing – parents usually never bothered the schools in those days. I took the 11-plus exam at Biggleswade Secondary School and passed to go on to grammar school. Up to that year I would have gone to Bedford School which was a reputable public school, but the Education Authority had started to build a new grammar school at Biggleswade called Stratton School and that is where we went as the first pupils there.
When the letter came to say I had passed, Mum couldn’t believe it and Dad bought me a new bike. Even Nancy Chessum gave me some money when she saw me next time in the street. I think she was a school governer.

We didn’t have regular holidays, just days out with the Sunday School to Skegness, but when I was 11 Geoff organised a holiday in Blackpool for a week with Mum, Dad, Aunt Floss, Uncle Bert, Daph, Geoff and me at a typical landlady’s guest house. We went there by taxi and I thought it was wonderful. Food was still not plentiful, but for one evening meal we had roast pork and veg, with a big bowl of apple sauce. We knew we were going to get a sweet because the spoons were laid out. The landlady came in with a jug of custard and looked at the table and asked where the apples had gone to go with the custard: everybody was speechless when they realised what had happened. We just had custard for sweet!

Life in the Village
After school we all met down the playing field for a game of football. Somebody would bring a ball and the chosen captains would take it in turn to pick a player for their team and we played till dark then went home.
On Mondays, it was Youth Club at the Chapel from 7 pm till 9.30. It was a great social activity for the girls and boys. We could play table tennis, billiards, darts, card games, and there were books, biscuits, orange squash, all organised by two or three adult volunteers.
In summer, Denis and his friends (male and female) played tennis on the vicarage lawn. They had to mow the grass, mark out the court, put the net up and provide the balls before they could play – all with the blessing of the vicar. I used to go down and be a nuisance to them but they would send me down the village to buy ice cream to get me out of the way and I would get an ice cream. This gang then formed a proper tennis club when the Playing Field committee built two hard courts and a small pavilion on the playing field. About ten years later I became secretary to the club.

Lanford Tennis Club Dinner 1952
Langford Tennis Club Annual Dinner 1952

Langford Tennis Club Trophy Winners 1952
Langford Tennis Club Trophy Winners 1952: Left to right (Top row): Brian Handscombe, Herbert Dilley, Dennis Wright. (Bottom row): Fred Larman (President), Joan Gentle, Tony Brown (Chairman)

Langford Tennis Club Trophy Presentation 1959
Langford Tennis Club Annual Dinner Dance 1959, Trophy Presentation at Market House Café, Biggleswade. Left to right: Philip Wright (Hon Sec), Fred Larman (President), Herbert Dilley and Helen Rainbow (mixed doubles winners), Tony Brown (Chairman)

Jack Street was football youth coach and he organised Saturday matches and practice sessions and there was great competition to get into the team. I managed to hold a place as No 7, outside right, based on my football hero Stanley Matthews from Stoke and Blackpool. I later followed Lancashire County Cricket team because Blackpool is in Lancashire.
Also in summer was the annual village flower show with many things going on in different places like boxing matches, fancy dress parade, and silly cricket matches. Dad was on the committee and entered into the spirit of things with flower and vegetable entries and fancy dress. There is a photo of him and Bob Smith as King Farouk and his bride.
I also used to go fishing in the river at the mill and the gravel pits on Henlow Road. The mill was mainly roach and chub and the gravel pits only tench and dace. Also in summer I learnt to swim in the gravel pits but was never very confident.

I don’t remember many illnesses but I recall having chronic toothache because dental care was unheard of and Mum, Dad and Denis all had false teeth so there was no help there. I tried all sorts of things to cure it like putting aspirin and tobacco in the hole where the decay was and the school dentist was awful and wouldn’t give any injections when doing a filling, so I didn’t go till I was about 17.

Stratton School
When we started at Stratton which was a grammar/technical school, only four or five classrooms had been built and there were only five teachers – Headmaster, Mr Blayney, Mr Coupe, Mr Howe, Mr Greener, Miss Friend and a sports master. With me from Langford Primary School were Barry Breed, Brian Handscombe, Marie Brown and Barry Wheeler. Some had school uniforms and some didn’t.
We had to get the school bus from Langford to Biggleswade and on the first morning we were all very nervous waiting at the allocated time and place. We were even more nervous when the bus went straight past without stopping and it was left to me to ring the headmaster to explain because we were the only family with a phone.
We were allocated classes according to how we had done in the 11+ and I was placed in the top class. I struggled there and the fact that I couldn’t see the writing on the blackboard didn’t help. The French teacher Mr Greener noticed it first and sat me on the front row. I was sent somewhere for an eye test and have worn glasses ever since. I didn’t do very well in the end of term exams and was moved down a class the next year.
I did, however, play for the school cricket team and sang in the school choir and enjoyed most sporting activities including rugby and athletics.
As the years went on I found my level at the school and tried my best and generally enjoyed school. One year our form master was Mr Wagstaff who taught mathematics and I got on well with him. At the end of one term he mentioned me as a ‘role model’ because I had done well in both term work and exams, coming fifth in term work and seventh in exams in the class. I didn’t achieve much in GCE ‘O’ level getting passes in English Language, Mathematics and General Science. But with hindsight these subjects have held me in good stead.
At the end of the fifth year I was in a quandary because I hadn’t done well enough to go on to ‘A’ levels and I hadn’t got a job, so I carried on to sixth form to get more ‘O’ levels. Mr Wagstaff was also our careers master and early in the autumn term of the sixth form he had seen an advert for an engineer learner in Bedfordshire County Surveyor’s office and said he thought it would suit me and that I ought to apply, which I did. I got the job and left school.
The school dentist paid us visits and he was awful. I had sensitive teeth but he would not give any injections or painkillers and it was murder. He put me off dentists for many years.
I joined the school photography society and did my own developing and printing.

Life at home
During the school summer holidays I would work for Ezra Street on his farm land with other boys from the village, picking potatoes, pulling runner beans and sometimes taking the horse and cart to the station to load veg to market. We got paid one shilling an hour for 40 hours a week which was £2. I was shocked when Mum asked me for some money for my keep! We had some fun on the farm and got into trouble now and again.
When Denis completed his two years of National Service and was back on civvy street he worked for Dad (Chessum and Wright) as a bricklayer and on Saturdays went to the dances at Hitchin with his mates – Herbert Dilley, Richard Smith, Clive Rogers and Norman Smith.
About 1951/52 we were still living at 8 East Road. Dad approached his Uncle Charles to see if he would sell him some of the garden to build a bungalow. Uncle Charles agreed and so plans were drawn up for Dad to build the bungalow in his spare time.
It took some time to complete and was a really nice design – three bedrooms, bathroom, central heating, utility room. The roof tiles were cedar wood shingles that changed colour slightly depending on the moisture in the air and Dad named the bungalow the ‘Grey Ibstocks’ from the name of the bricks he had chosen. We thought it was lovely and a big change from No 8. Dad still had quite a good sized garden.
Denis helped to build it and I tried mixing mortar and fetching bricks but I wasn’t up to it at 14 years old.
I still had mates down at the playing field especially Barry Breed, Michael Dear, Richard Garner, etc. Larry Piper had a small row boat which he kept tied up on the River Ivel and we used to mess about in it. One day in summer it had gone missing and we thought some boys from the next village, Henlow, had taken it. Mike Dear and myself thought we knew where it was and would get it back. So one evening we met up and cycled to the Langford Road Bridge, put our bikes under the bridge and walked about two miles along the river bank to Henlow and found the boat. We untied it and rowed it back to Langford and tied it up under the bridge. By this time it was dark and getting late but we hadn’t got watches so we didn’t know the time. But we were not worried because the mission was accomplished. When we got to Mike Dear’s house we thought there had been an accident because there was a small crowd of people outside his house. I was surprised when Dad called after me and followed me on his bike.
We hadn’t told our parents where we were going and it was about 10 o’clock when Dad made some enquiries from my mates and was told about the plan to get the boat back.
He feared the worst and went to see Mike’s parents. He said he was never more pleased to see two cycle lights in the dark in the whole of his life. On the school bus next morning, Mike and I were the village heroes.


Herbert Thompson, MM, Langford’s First World War hero: A Postcard from the Front, 1918

Thompson Postcard 1918


Text of the card:
‘Remember me to all at Home. Am quite well, hoping this finds you, & all, the same (Cheeri-oh)
(Fondest Love) from your true and loving husband Herbert.
Addressed to:
Mrs H Thompson, Church End, Langford, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England

Card Text

This card was found in Linda Franklin’s mother’s effects after she died in 2011. Linda says:

‘She used to show it to me from time to time and tell me to keep it, and some others she had kept, as they were very precious.Herbert Charles Thompson who sent the card was my Grandad and he was the village bootmaker.
He served in France as a driver with the Royal Field Artillery and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field while saving the guns and returning to help other soldiers under fire. He had his horse shot from under him and he kept the shrapnel that went into the horse’s neck and I remember him showing it to me.’

Herbert Thompson was born at Scrupps Farm, Langford Road, Biggleswade, in 1894. His father was Fred Thompson who had a shoe shop in Hitchin Street, Biggleswade, and was also a market gardener. His mother was Laura Thompson and their children were Herbert, Percy and Fred Junior. At the 1911 census the boys were all living on the farm – Herbert was 17, Percy 15 and Fred 4. Herbert was working for his father, shoe-mending and Percy worked at an ironmongers. Both older boys went on to serve in France. Herbert joined the Army on 31 October1916 when he was 22 years and 8 months.

Just over a year before he married Olive Annie Roberts in St Andrew’s church, Langford, on her birthday: 23 October1915. Herbert was then stationed in East Sussex before being sent to France. Olive moved there with him as they now had a baby girl, Marjorie May, born in May 1916. Sadly, Marjorie died at 10months and he was allowed compassionate leave to be with his wife but then he had to go to fight in France.

Thompson & Olive Roberts

Herbert’s Military Medal was the last awarded for gallantry in the opening phase of the Kaiser’s battle in May 1918:

‘Driver Herbert Thompson won the Military Medal, together with five other drivers in an extraordinary example of dedication and daring. As the Germans were advancing, a section of the Royal Field Artillery found itself under attack and for a while it looked as if their guns would be captured by the enemy. Driver Thompson and his comrades were having none of this and they galloped to the rescue, bringing back both the guns and two wounded gunners as shells exploded all around them.’
Biggleswade and the Great War: Our Own Flesh and Blood, by Kenneth Wood, p 124.

His award was reported in the Biggleswade Chronicle on Friday, 14 June 1918:

‘We learn with pleasure that the Military Medal has been awarded to Driver Herbert Thompson, of the Royal Field Artillery, for bravery in the field. He is the eldest son of Mr Fred Thompson, bootmaker, etc., and is widely known and prior to the war he was a very prominent member of the Thursday Football Club. He has served on the Western Front for some 14 months and has been in many grim struggles. The Military Medal has been awarded to Driver Thompson and five other drivers for bringing back to a place of safety two of the guns during the great German offensive. The guns were nearly two miles away and a big bombardment was in progress when the drivers set out but they succeeded, despite German gas shells, in bringing back the guns although several of the horses and men were wounded. They also brought with them two gunners who had been wounded. Driver Thompson has sent home to his father a piece of shrapnel that was extracted from his horse’s neck.’

Herbert left the army on 28 April 1919 and bought the white cottage in Langford which was then 73 Church Street and he opened a boot and shoe repair shop in the shed next to the house. They had a son Teddy Thompson in 1919 and then Gwendoline Thompson (Linda’s mother) in 1929 and lived at the cottage until Herbert’s death on 1 November 1966. Olive then moved to a little cottage opposite the Shopping Basket store until she died in 1982. Herbert was known as one of the Iron Backs in the Biggleswade Thursday football team.
Below is a photo of his house in Church Street where he had his shoe repair shop. He is standing at the gate with his daughter Gwen Thompson and her friend Pamela Brown. Later, part of the house was converted into his shoe repair shop instead of his working in the shed at the side where he had his big machinery where he polished the leather. Leather was soaked in tin baths on the floor.Linda remembersthat he always had tacks in his mouth while cutting the leather to the shape of the sole. During the Second World War he repaired boots for the soldiers who were stationed at the Church’s ‘old tin room’ opposite the house.Herbert’s cottage is still there, but has been much modernised.

The Old Church House

Ralph Turner in Langford: A Village Walk says

‘Next we come to Crispin Cottage, this was the home of Herbert Thompson, the cobbler. Herbert had his cobbler’s shed in the garden just north of the cottage and boys used to visit him to get studs in their boots to slide with, and in return they had to deliver repaired boots and shoes to all parts of the village. In severe winter weather lots of folks used to go over the common skating on the cow pond; one of these was Herbert. It is said he always seemed to skate with his bowler hat on and his scarf blowing behind him. For many years his wooden skates with steel runners were hanging up in his cobbler’s shop.’

Herbert Thompson Cobbler

Military MedalThe Military Medal (MM) was (until 1993) a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army and other services, and formerly also to personnel of other Commonwealth countries, below commissioned rank, for bravery in battle on land.
The medal was established on 25 March 1916. It was the equivalent for other ranksof theMilitary Cross (MC), which was awarded to commissioned officers and, rarely, to warrant officers, although WOs could also be awarded the MM. The MM ranked below the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), which was also awarded to non-commissioned members of the Army.
Recipients of the Military Medal are entitled to use the letters ‘MM’ after their name. Over 115,000 awards were made for actions during the First World War. Additionally, over 5,700 bars were awarded, as well as 180 second bars. There was one instance of a third bar being awarded; this was made to Private Ernest Albert Corey, who served as a stretcher bearer in the Australian 55th Infantry Battalion, which served on the Western Front. During the Second World War, over 15,000 awards of the MM were made. The decoration has occasionally been bestowed upon non-British or Commonwealth subjects, and has also been awarded to some civilians. In 1993, the Military Medal was discontinued. Since then the Military Cross has been awarded to personnel of all ranks within the British honours system.


The Dew family (a note contributed from New Zealand by Eva Mabel Dew’s son)

William Dew, a miller, resided in Langford with his wife Jane and family from 1888 to 1905.
Initially they resided in an old farm cottage in Water Lane-now High Street. Their home was next to Albert Whiteman’s farm and opposite the Red Cow pub. Nurse Grummitt apparently resided nearby. References to the Dews are included in the 1891 census. By the next census in 1901 Water Lane was then called Water End. Chapter 5 of Ralph Turner’s book Langford a Village Walk describes the locality in detail. About 1898 the Dews moved to Back Lane – now Station Road-and resided in one of the Mount Pleasant cottages next to the Merryweather family. The Dews had 11 children -a further four died in infancy.
One of the daughters Ada Janet Dew married James Selby, a fishmonger, at St Andrew’s Church Langford on 22 March 1902. The Rev C.C. Ewbank officiated.
In addition to working at the Langford Mill William Dew was a beer retailer in Langford. He was also a tradesman, shaping millstones and his services were called upon by adjacent mills. About 1905 after a severe flood the Langford Mill was temporarily out of commission and the Dew Family moved to the Twyford Mill near Banbury.
Eva Mabel Dew, who died in 1985, attended Langford School at the same time as a well-known person, Jack Cousins. Jack recalled how popular the Dew girls were with the local menfolk.


Memories of Langford by Michael Rutt
‘While there is still time, I’m 83!

Memories of Langford by Michael Rutt: the author of The People at the Long Ford, the only history of Langford, published by Bedfordshire County Library in 1976.

I was not born in Langford. I first saw the light of day at the Maples Nursing Home in Bedford Road, Hitchin on 28 April 1935. My parents took me home to Tithe Farm, Langford when I was 9 days old. I had been a difficult birth – some would say I have been difficult ever since. I arrived in Langford just in time to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The house and garden were decorated with flags and bunting to mark the event. I was the youngest person in the village. The Parish Council presented me with a commemorative mug, a small cream-coloured mug with pictures of King George and Queen Mary: it is on a shelf in my house to this day. I have to wonder whether the influence of my father had anything to do with this, he was clerk to the Parish Council at the time.

The oldest person was a 91-year-old man who had worked at Tithe Farm for my ancestor Edmund Piper in the 1850s. It made a neat connection between me and him. I was christened at the font in Langford church on Whitsunday ,of 1935. My baptismal names were Maurice Michael. Maurice, after my Dad, and Michael because they liked it. It was a popular Christian name in the 1930s. I was always called Michael, which in later life has led to some confusion. Officialdom has frequently called me ‘Maurice’. I have had to correct them. I believe this was a fashionable thing to do in the 1930s. I have cousins who are known by their second Christian name. At the time of my birth Ramsay McDonald was Prime Minister until June when he was succeeded by Stanley Baldwin. There was a General Election in November – the last one for 10 years. Our MP for Mid-Bedfordshire was Alan Lennox-Boyd who lived at Henlow Grange. He was a Conservative, the first for many years as other Members had been Liberals. All these things were above my head. I slept, was fed on Cow and Gate baby food, soiled nappies, blissfully unaware of the Abdication crisis, (‘Hark, the herald angels sing, Mrs. Simpson pinched our King’), the accession of King George VI and the Coronation of 1937, though I still have a lovely mug given to me at the time, I yelled until I was sick, gurgled and listened to Mum singing to me.

My parents were Maurice and Margaret Rutt. Mum was born Kathleen Mary Margaret Butler at Kempston, daughter of William and Kate Butler. They lived in London, but births were usually arranged in the family home of great-grand-mother Emma Hart at Bedford Villa in Kempston High Street. The birth must have been anticipated with some trepidation. Granny was pregnant when she married Bill Butler at Westminster Registry Office. She gave birth to a boy, George William, who would have been my uncle, but he died at 8 months old and was buried in Kempston old cemetery. I have a photograph of him in his coffin. The little chap looks very calm and peaceful. It may have been what we now would call a cot death.

Mum entered the world on 8 June 1902. It was Peace Sunday, a day of celebration for the end of the Boer War. She thrived, so they went back to London to live in Wilton Mews, Belgravia, where Grandad Bill was a coachman in the household of the Earl of Sefton. By the spring of 1904 Granny was pregnant again. This time twin girls were born, named Edeline and Eveline. They were, as was my mother, named after members of the Sackville family of Knole Park, Sevenoaks, Kent and Buckhurst Park at Withyham near East Grinstead in Sussex, where Granny had worked for 16 years before her marriage. They hated their names so when they grew up they called themselves Bob and Joan (I’ll explain that later. Mum Margaret, or Kitty as she was known, was sent off to Langford to be cared for by her aunt and uncle Frederick and Elizabeth Isherwood at Tithe Farm until the confinement was over and the twins were doing well. Mrs. Isherwood was Kate Butler’s sister. They did do well and became my aunts who lived in London. Mum never left Langford and lived there all her life. She mangled her Christian name Margaret to Margie (with a hard g.) and was known by that name by all the family and her contemporaries in the village. Uncle Fred and Aunt Lizzie were devoted to her. They wanted to legally adopt her but her father would not have it. They are rather like a third pair of grandparents to me although I never knew them. What tensions went on about this I do not know but things must have been pretty fraught at times.

My father was Maurice Rutt, born 15 October 1904. He was the fourth son and fourth child of Levi and Ellen Rutt who had the Post Office and grocery shop at what came to be called ‘the old shop’ after they moved to the ‘new shop’ further down High Street about 1905. Grandad bought the old shop from Susan and Ann Street in 1898. His father, James Rutt was at the new shop. Both father and son showed entrepreneurial skills. As well as groceries and the Post Office they were pork butchers and Grandma sold drapery products. Dad said socks were a strong seller. Both shops went well until a great crisis in 1902. Grandad’s older brother, George, worked in a grocery store in North London where Levi had also worked a boy. George had to be confined to a mental institution at Dartford, Kent, where he died. His wife Mary and two sons came to live at Langford in a cottage at the High Street end of Station Rd. There were two rows of small houses belonging to James Rutt. They still stand to this day. Her father-in-law paid regular visits. Whether it was rape or consensual sex we shall never know but she became pregnant. Mum described as ‘he had wrong relations with her’ – very delicately put. When Levi knew this he was so angry he went his father’s shop, dragged him into the yard punched him really hard, knocked him down and left him bruised and battered. Mary gave birth to a daughter, Elsie. Elsie and her (half) brother James were sent off to Canada as quite young children. The other boy, Walter, was sent to boy’s service in the Army. He served in the Great War, completed his time in the army in the 13/18 Hussars then became a civil servant at Somerset House. Jim lived and worked in Winnipeg. Elsie was a nurse in British Columbia. She came back to Langford about 1960 when she married Harry Smith. He was her 3rd or 4th husband. After Harry died she went back to Calgary, gave up playing the piano when she was a hundred and lived to 102. She was the longest lived Rutt of all.

Dad was a sickly child. In addition to a deformed toe on his left foot he had had double pneumonia when he was 2 years old. His chest was permanently sunken and he claimed he had only one lung working properly. In later age he had severe bouts of depressive illness and was very unwell with that. Living at the shop meant you had to work. There was the telephone exchange to be attended to and baskets of groceries to be delivered. The telephone number at the shop at 5 High Street was Langford 1.

Telegrams came by phone and had to be delivered as soon as possible. On several occasions in the Great War Dad handed in telegrams to tell of the death of a soldier, although he was only 12 years old. There was a postal delivery from the Biggleswade office even on Christmas Day. One Christmas day Dad had to cycle to Vine Farm, the very last place in Langford. He handed in the letters. The man at the door growled his thanks. Dad was biking away when the man shouted to him to come back: he gave him a threepenny piece. They were silver in those times. The spirit of Christmas giving was there that day. They went to the school which stood on the site where the Church Hall now stands. They always had great respect for Mr Robert Cater, the headmaster, indeed my uncle Robert was named for him. Dad left school when he was 12 years old having taken and passed the leavers certificate. Apart from 5 years in World War 2 he worked at the shop until 1951. On the early morning of 11 November 1918 all the telephone exchanges were called from the main exchange at Hitchin to say that hostilities would cease at 11 am. There was general rejoicing. Dad, the workhorse, was sent to Biggleswade to buy flags and bunting and a half-gallon flagon of whisky at Wells and Winches’ shop in the High Street. It cost 15 shillings – 75 pence in new money. Celebrations all round, but clouded with sorrow at the loss of men from the village they knew. In 1920 Grandad and his son, my uncle Cecil, went with a motorbike and sidecar to see the Great War battle fields in Flanders around Ypres They got separated near Hill 60. Grandad could produce a piercing whistle by putting his fingers between his teeth. Uncle Cecil heard it and knew a Langford man was there. The immediate post-war years were not easy but they worked away at the shop as gradual decline set in, until eventually the business failed. 1937 saw the end of a time from about 1870 to 1932 when the sub-postmaster at Langford had been named Rutt.

INTERLUDE: Wake up, keep your eyes open. You won’t see if you don’t.
Two old ladies in the shop in 1914. Lady 1: Did yer know the Germans a’ got Brussels.
Lady 2: Waal, gel, what they warn’t with a field o’ sprouts.
Speech impediments are not something to made fun of but they did joke about them. A man with an angry dog was nicknamed, ‘Teadem Tam’. His cleft palate denied him the ability to tell his dog to‘Seizem Sam’.
A lady who lived along Front Street (now High Street) was known as ‘Zip’: not a sliding fastener but named for the wife of the Prophet Moses in the Old Testament, Zipporah. More about names and place names later.

Grandad and Grandma, Levi Rutt and Ellen Bates, were married in Langford church on 29 October 1895. Dad had nine brothers and sisters. I knew them all except Bill who died before I was born. They were all born within 200 yards of each other, either at the old shop or the new. Bill was a sickly, frail man. He was unfit for service in the Great War, so he worked in the military recruiting office in Biggleswade. He then worked for the Inland Revenue, where he was posted to Norwich. He was a talented musician, especially playing the organ at church. At Norwich he became a deputy organist at the Cathedral. The principal organist was Dr. Bates, coincidentally the same name as Grandma’s maiden name but no relation. In the city he met and married Ivy Bullard. They had two daughters, my cousins Elizabeth and Judith. Bill died in Bedford Hospital from a ruptured appendix in April 1927. His funeral was on the same day that Uncle Fred Isherwood died at Tithe Farm. Judith was 10 days old when her father passed away.

The second son, born in 1899, was Cecil. Grandma wanted to name him Cecil Rhodes after the leading imperialist of Southern Africa but she changed her mind as they walked up the church path to the Christening! He was just old enough to serve in the Great War. After being conscripted in the Royal Enniskilling Fusiliers he was posted to Dublin where he stood guard on Mountjoy Prison when Irish Republicans were jailed. He married Mary Turner of The Leys in Langford. Her father was the village blacksmith. Cecil became a printer with Spong’s in Biggleswade and later the Relieving Officer for the Biggleswade Poor Law Union, a post which was abolished when the National Health Service came into being in 1948. A dapper man, he wore a monocle, a cravat and spats on his shoes. A keen Freemason he was Master of St. Andrew’s Lodge Biggleswade in 1945. Like so many of Dad’s siblings he did not have good health and died at the age of 58. He was the father of my cousins, Richard, John and David.

Eddie (Edwin Leslie) was third. Born in 1902 he went Canada in 1927 to work for his uncle, Harry Bates, who was Grandma’s brother. Returning a year later, he married Alice Clark from Holme Green. Uncle Eddie served in World War II in Northern Ireland and then Egypt. He took a leave to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem. When he came home he gave me a bible with wooden covers made from olive wood said to have been grown on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, which I still have. He saw at first hand the troubles between Arabs and Jews a few years before the creation of the state of Israel. One of his memories of Cairo was seeing a dead camel floating down the Nile. In the next interlude I will put down Uncle Eddie’s silly poems. Uncle Eddie and Auntie Alice were the parents of my cousins, Philip and Charles.

Levi and Ellen’s first daughter was Helen Elizabeth born in 1906. Having four brothers she was known as ‘Sissie’, a name she grew to dislike intensely. When she went work in an office she did get to be called by her correct Christian name. She worked hard, together with housemaid Rose Sims, to help her mother bring up the younger children. She worked for Maythorns coachworks in Biggleswade, then the Igranic Works in Bedford. Closer to home she began working as a secretary for F C Larkinson, who had a shop in Hitchin Street, Biggleswade and a scrap yard. Here she learned the details of scrap metal – ferrous and non-ferrous metals, aluminium and general metal waste. She was successful and moved on to F D Odell’s at Shefford.

 Auntie Helen knew all the gypsy encampments and would buy scrap from them. Billy Smith told me many years later: ‘Thas allright, Miss Rutt’ll give yer a good deal’. She lived in London Road, Biggleswade, where she, in conjunction with Maurice and Eddie, cared for Levi and Ellen until they passed away in 1965. Auntie Helen never married but she had a long-term friendship with Dorothy Sivyer, who became a family friend to Mum, Dad and me.
Edith was born in 1908. She worked at the Spirella Corset factory in Letchworth then married, in 1939, Leon Inman who was serving in the RAF. They were the parents of my cousin Helen Teresa.

Robert Harry appeared in 1911. He began work for the LNER railway at Arlesey station and apart from four years in the Royal Artillery in North Wales in World War II he worked for the LNER and British Rail until his death aged 58 in 1974. He married Phyllis Brown at Arlesey church on Boxing Day 1936. The infant me yelled all through the service. Uncle Robert and Auntie Phyll were the parents of my cousins, Christopher (deceased) and Harvey.
In 1914 the third daughter was born. Kathleen went to school in Hitchin and then to a teacher training college in Truro. When qualified she taught at Silver Jubilee School in Bedford and subsequently became Deputy Head of Goldington Green Junior School. She married Ronald Adams who was a soldier in Biggleswade at the end of the war. They were the parents of my cousin Felicity.

Denis Frederick John, born in 1917, was the longest lived and last to die of all 9 of Dad’s siblings. He lived until 2012. At Bedford Modern School he had a vocation to be an ordained clergyman of the Church of England. He went to Kelham Theological College at Newark, Notts, and was ordained at St Albans Abbey in 1943. He was appointed Bishop’s chaplain for youth in the diocese of St Albans where he began the custom of the Youth Pilgrimage in the diocese on Easter Monday. He married Mary Leach at Stockton-on-Tees in 1943. In 1948 he and Mary with three children sailed to South Africa. Denis was Rector of Empangeni in Zululand. They returned home in 1954 with three more children. My cousins with Denis and ‘Rio’ are Jane, Bridget, Stephen, Helen, Mark and Catherine.

The youngest child and youngest son was Keith. Born in 1919 he joined the RAF when the war started in 1939. He had been to Bedford Modern School and had worked at K and L steel founders in Letchworth. He was in the crew of a Wellington bomber in Bomber Command. The plane crashed in flames at Lower Brailes, Oxfordshire on 22 October 1941. It was the greatest tragedy that had befallen the Rutt family in many years.
This has been a long catalogue of people. All of them were Langford men and women and proud to claim the village as their birthplace. There are still my Mum’s family and the Isherwood family to describe.

INTERLUDE: Uncle Eddie’s silly poems:
One fine day in September, One October in July,
 the sun lay thick upon the grass, the snow shone in the sky.
The flowers were singing gaily, the birds were in full bloom,
I went down to the cellar to sweep the upstairs room.
I looked around and saw a house that stood just out of sight,
and it was black-washed white.

One fine day in the middle of the night,
two dead men got up to fight.
Two blind men went to see fair play,
two dumb men went to shout hooray.
When two dead donkeys came kicking by
and drowned them all in a ditch so dry.

Oft repeated: ‘We shan’t be round tomorrer, the donkey’s dead or We shan’t be round tomorrer the donkey’s pissed on the strawberries.’

John Rutt, known as ‘Cog’, but not a close relation, sold whitening which was used to polish grates, hearths and flagstones. He had a donkey cart loaded with white balls of cleaner. At the end of the day donkey, cart and Cog were covered in white dust. At twilight he was a ghostly apparition. Mum recalled him coming into the yard at Tithe Farm. She ran into the kitchen to escape.

The first connection Mum’s family had with Langford was when Elizabeth Hart from Kempston worked at the school as a pupil teacher. She was Granny Butler’s older sister. She gained a teaching diploma and since the school was so close to Tithe Farm she met and married Frederick Isherwood. The wedding was at Kempston in October 1895, a week or so before that of my grandparents at Langford church. Fred’s father, Robert Isherwood, died only a month before the wedding so they moved into Tithe Farm straight away.

My Mum came to live at Tithe Farm in 1904. The presence of a small child did nothing to stimulate fertility in Uncle Fred and Aunt Lizzie. They remained childless. Mum had twin sisters who lived in London, successively in Wilton Mews, Belgravia; Queen’s Mews, Bayswater, and after 1924, Grosvenor Crescent Mews, also in Belgravia. Grandad, Bill Butler, was coachman to Sir Bertram Falle, who was MP for Southsea and in 1931 became Lord Portsea. On leaving school the twins went to work at Harrods famous department store in New Brompton Road, more generally known as part of Knightsbridge. Later they worked for Robert Jackson’s, the Royal grocers in Piccadilly. Edeline got herself called ‘Bob’ or ‘Bobby’ when bobbed hair was a fashionable style for young women. Eveline called herself ‘Joan’ just because she liked the name. It was redolent of the life style of the ‘flappers’ in the 1920s. Aunty Bob married Frank Jeary whose father was the catering manager at the Royal Opera House. They had no children. Aunty Joan married Leslie Sayers, who worked at the Devonshire Club in the City of London. They were the parents of my cousin Tony (deceased).

My Rutt ancestors stem from a family called Handscombe – a very common Langford surname. In the 1790s James Handscombe married Alice Gravestock. Their daughter Ann was my great-great-grandmother, born in 1802. She married George Rutt, whose family originated in Blunham. In the first years of their marriage they had no children. This all changed in 1829. In that year George and his brother John were convicted of stealing 19 ducks off the village pond. I don’t know where this pond was. It may have been on the river side of the Pound close to where the playing field is today. They appeared at Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions in Bedford, were convicted and sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. From Bedford Jail they were sent to the ‘Justicia’, a prison hulk at Woolwich. After 6 weeks there they were shipped to Tasmania. George worked on the estate of the Earl of Norfolk. He had a tattoo on his left arm, his behaviour was said to be poor or indifferent. At the end of their sentence they had a choice to remain or return to England. John chose to return to his home and wife. George stayed. He died of bronchitis at the age of 57.

In George’s absence things were happening in Langford. Ann began a close friendship with William Bryant, the landlord of the ‘Wrestlers’ pub. With him she had at least 3 sons. James, the oldest, was my great-grandfather. He was baptized at church. In the margin of the register the parish clerk wrote ‘adulterous child’. In 1860 age 23 he married Emma Kilby. In the entry for father, James gave the name William Bryant. So it seems evident that William was his father and was acknowledged as such. Ann’s children are the source of three distinct families in Langford with the surname Rutt. These were ‘Brassy’, ‘Brush’ and ‘Pimmy’. I am a Pimmy since great-grandfather was known as ‘Jimmy’, which was mis-pronounced as ‘Pimmy’. Unusually Ann registered and had her children baptized with her married surname. She lived to a great age living with her brother Thomas in a cottage in Back Lane. No one ever knew or heard Grandad Levi mention her. He must have known her. It’s just one of those family mysteries to which we shall never know the answer. There are no answers because Grandad steadfastly refused to talk about his family. It was probably shame and fear of derision or humiliation that stopped him. In answer to questions he would say that we had to be like Lord Nelson and turn a blind eye. He would have been quite shocked if he knew what we know today.
We should not be too quick to condemn George Rutt. Langford at that time was a very poor, not to say, poverty-stricken village. Agriculture still operated under the three-field system which it had done since the Middle Ages. The Open Fields of strips of land were still worked by gangs of men and boys for very low wages. Boys were employed to pick up stones in sacks and use them to fill potholes in the roads or to net sparrows on hedges. It took a lot of sparrows to make a pie, but they did it. It was later in the century that women and girls could work at straw plaiting. The only school in the village was in the church where children could learn, at least, the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic as well as sewing and hammering. My ancestor, Eliza Barton, was a teacher there.

If the open fields were enclosed then productivity would improve and wages might well increase. Enclosure needed an Act of Parliament. This finally came in 1829, the year of George’s crime. Previous attempts to enclose Langford were always opposed by the Stewards of Westminster Abbey. In 1815 they claimed it would ‘harm their interests’, and since they owned much of open field land and were Lords of the Manor of Holme with Langford their influence was considerable. The other social problem dominating the agricultural world at this time was the ‘Captain Swing’ riots. Captain Swing was the name given to the writers of anonymous letters sent to landowners and farmers telling them not to use harvesting machinery and any new methods of cultivation to the detriment of their workers. They burned farm barns and wheat stacks over a large area of Southern England. The destructive events nearest to Langford were at Hinxworth and Stotfold, where straw stacks were burned. The name Captain Swing was on many lips in the year 1829.

The other disadvantage facing George was the severity of the judicial system and that transportation to Australia was a major form of punishment. His term was seven years but the distance to the other side of the world meant that few returned. George died of bronchitis in Tasmania in 1857. Life in Langford went on. I wonder how much and how often my great-great grandmother thought of her husband and if she ever mused upon what life might have been had he not been a petty criminal.

The enclosure commissioners for Langford were my ancestor Peregrine Piper and Francis Pym of Sandy. Hedges were planted and larger fields created. The largest allocation of land was 660 acres of fields to Sir Montague Welby of Long Benington, Lincolnshire. He had purchased the Manor of Langford Rectory in 1804, presumably as an investment. The changes in the village led to the formation of new farms and the expansion of older ones. A lot of Welby land was farmed by Edmund Piper, son of Peregrine mentioned above. The house at Tithe Farm was built about 1834 and the old buildings, which may have included the medieval chapel of the Knights Templar, were demolished. In the garden at Tithe Farm from time immemorial was a stone sculpture of Christ bearing the sins of the world on his back. I think it is likely it came from the Templar’s chapel. It remains in my garden to this day. I cannot be sure if it was the Templar’s property but I can’t offer any other explanation for its origin – Time for an Interlude.

INTERLUDE: So it’s called LANGFORD, the Long Ford. Where is the ford across the river Ivel? There probably was a ford where we know it today since very early times, maybe pre-Roman. But what is ‘long’ about it? I offer this explanation for the derivation of the name. It is principally a geographical reason as well as an historical one, which dates from Saxon times, c. AD700.
The Roman road from Baldock to Biggleswade runs over Toplers Hill where the water tower is today. The top of the hill forms a junction with a minor road which is Roman in origin. It is almost a straight line to Langford as far as the bottom of Cambridge Road. This road is known today as ‘Ed’uth’ Way. No true Langfordian would call it ‘Edworth’ Way. The modern road goes straight on past what was the ‘Boot’ pub, crosses the river and as the ground rises slightly then turns left at Baulk House towards Henlow. The old road continues as a farm road towards Maulden and Ampthill. In very ancient times I believe it was impossible to ford or cross the river Ivel at that point. The only way to get across the river and through the marshy, boggy ground was to follow the line of what is now High Street until the bottom of what is now Chapel Hill. There the banks of the river were probably firmer, the river bed was more solid underfoot. Teams of horses and oxen needed to cross as well as people on foot. The river banks and bed would be churned up, but they would not be floundering in mud as would have happened on the direct route. This, I think, is the origin of the name, Long Ford. It took travelers out of their way to cross the river. It was a ‘long’ way round. The river name Ivel, is the oldest place name in the district. It comes from a group of families who lived in the area in about AD650. They are named in a document called the Tribal Hidage with the name Givele. The village names, Northill and Southill take the ancient name, the ‘ill’ part being the people’s name. I’m not at all sure how to pronounce ‘Givele’. It needs a guttural, throaty croak to say it and with an Anglo-Saxon attitude!

After James Rutt had married Emma Kilby in 1860, they worked together to start a shop business. Emma seems to have been the guiding light. James made a mark to sign the church register at their marriage, but Emma signed with a strong, firmly written signature. She seems to have been the driving force. Through the 1860s and 70s they prospered. A connection was made with a grocery shop in North London, not far from the Angel, Islington. The eldest son, George, went to work there and became a London resident all his life. Their second, Levi, my grandfather, worked there between 1887 and 1890. One of the few stories Grandad told me about his younger days was how he ran from Islington to Whitechapel on a Sunday morning in November 1888 to see the scene of one of Jack the Ripper’s murders. His macabre sense of humour must have been fostered by this event. They slaughtered pigs at the shop in Langford, so the sight of blood and guts was not uncommon to him. Auntie Helen said it was more fun watching her Dad kill pigs than a bull fight in Spain. She caught the blood in a pan so that Grandma could make black pudding to sell in the shop. Even in 2010 the old slaughter house at the shop still stood looking over into Station Road, which they knew as Back Lane.

The last years of the nineteenth century and up to the Great War were years of prosperity for James and for Levi. They got contracts for public events like the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 and the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902. They acquired property and when the Rutt and Bates families were both flourishing they made a considerable impact on the village. Both of them at different times were sub-postmasters. From about 1880 to 1932 the Langford postmaster was named Rutt. Life was not always easy. James was in trouble with Parish Council in 1901 when he allowed the drains of his houses in Back Lane to become blocked. The sewage backed up and contaminated the wells and a water main. The result was a typhoid outbreak which brought the wrath of the law on James’s head. When the family rift over the birth of Elsie was healed, father and son were reconciled. James was a Methodist having attended the Chapel in The Leys and the new chapel. A new schoolroom was added to the Chapel in 1904 and James was a subscriber. His name is on the foundation stone in the porch leading to the school room. Levi, by complete contrast, was a member of the congregation at St Andrew’s parish church. He enjoyed singing and was encouraged in matters of religion by Rev C C Ewbank, who was Vicar of Langford from 1870 to 1933. James became ill in 1904, very seriously, at about the time Emma died. He had cancer. An operation was performed on him using the shop as an operating theatre and the shop counter as a table for the doctor to perform. God knows who caught the blood on that occasion! Both parents gone Grandad Levi had two shops, the ‘old shop’ nearly opposite The Leys and the ‘new shop’ on the other side of the road about 100 yards away. 1905 was a new beginning for Grandad and Grandma.

Levi Rutt married Ellen Elizabeth Bates at Langford church on 29 October 1895. As written above they soon started producing children. Soon after the wedding it was time to make Christmas puddings. ‘Stir up Sunday’ is the day. In the Prayer Book it is the Sunday next before Advent where the collect says, ‘Stir up, we beseech Thee, O, Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people’. So stir your Christmas puddings if you have a suitable basin to stir them in. Newly married Grandma didn’t have one so she went to her mother’s house, Honey Hill farm in Back Lane to borrow one. The pudding was made. That basin survives to this day and a pudding has been made in it every year since. It is blackened and crazed and every year we have expected it to break. 2018 saw its 124th Christmas. So here’s to 2019! I’ll make sure the silver threepennies are boiled with it.


One of the Few

Josef Jan Hanus

Battle of Britain Day (15 September) commemorates the great aerial battle that in the summer of 1940. During that battle, from 10 July–31 October, pilots from 15 countries joined British pilots and 2,927 Allied pilots were involved. One of those brave men, from Czechoslovakia, became a resident of Langford and is buried in the churchyard.

Josef Jan Hanus was born in 1911 in a village near Jilemnice, NE Czechoslovakia. After leaving school in 1931 he trained as a teacher but left to enlist in the Czech Air Force. Posted as an Observer to the 1st Air Regiment on 1 October 1932, he retrained as a pilot, qualifying in July 1935.

Like many Czech airmen after the German occupation he escaped to Poland and from there travelled to France and joined the Foreign Legion and then the French Air Force and, by late May 1940, he was serving with GCIII/1, near Paris.

Following the French collapse he escaped to England via Algeria, Casablanca and Gibraltar, where he landed on 12 July 1940. After being processed by the RAF, he was commissioned and went on to fly Hurricanes in September 1940. In October he was posted to 310 (Czechoslovak) Fighter Squadron.

He remained with the squadron until May 1941, when he went to 32 Squadron at Angle. In September 1941 Josef Hanus moved to 245 Squadron. He later served with 600, 125, and 68 Squadrons flying Beaufighters. On 25 December 1942 he was in transit to North Africa where he rejoined 600 Squadron. On 16 March he damaged a Do217, destroyed Ju88s on 4, 21 and 24 April and was given an immediate award of the DFC. He destroyed a Ju88 on 16 September and was posted back to the UK in December 1943 to serve at HQ Fighter Command as Technical Liaison Officer. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, Czech Military Cross, Czech medal for Valour, Czech Medal for Merit, Commemorative medal of the Czech Foreign Army.

On 6 May 1944 he married Lilian Webb, they had two children. In 1944 Josef Hanus flew back to Prague in a single-engined Auster aircraft. He rejoined the Czech Air Force but like many ex-RAF airmen was purged by the communist authorities in May 1948. He managed to send his family to England and escape through Germany in July. Many of his friends and colleagues received very long and cruel prison terms.

Josef rejoined the RAF and served with 23 and 141 Squadrons and in 1951 went on to Flying Control. He lost his flying category in late 1954 and trained as an Equipment Officer, serving in this capacity until his retirement in 1968 as a Flight Lieutenant, retaining the rank of Squadron Leader.

It is believed that Josef was posted to RAF Henlow, hence residence in Langford, and after being discharged from the RAF worked at ICL in Letchworth or Stevenage. In 1991, the Czech government promoted him to the honorary rank of Colonel, and then in 1992 he received the honorary rank of Major-General. Josef Hanus died on 21 April 1992.

Contributed by John Shipman