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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).


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.

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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.

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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.

Holidays
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.

Illnesses
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.

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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.
XXXXXX’
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.

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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.

 

 

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