Part 4 Ivy Smart Remembers Greens Norton from 1929


I came to Greens Norton on Sunday 9th. September 1929, by Midland Red bus from Banbury. I was met at Greens Norton by my future landlady and her son in their little two seater Catcutt.

It was 'The Feast', I was informed. The house, when we arrived, was full of people, visiting because of the feast. Everybody who had the slightest connection came on the Sunday or Monday. Some people came in after listening to Towcester band outside the Gate Inn. This is the only remaining tradition connected with the Feast. 

On Monday, about teatime, Billings Fair which had been shrouded in tarpaulins, got up steam The big engine, which supplied the power for all of the sideshows, was a magnificent sight. Crowds blocked the road as this was one of the highlights of the year. The fair consisted of the big roundabouts, swings, coconut shies, a shooting gallery, various sideshows and a small hand turned roundabout for the small children. There was great excitement some years later when the new galloping roundabout arrived. There was a little old lady darting about in her long black dress, picking up empty squibs, opening the bottoms and refilling them with water to sell again to the lads for squirting the girls. The big steam engine and the organ with its moving figures were a source of enjoyment to bystanders and of course they made most of the noise. It was traditional to finish off the evening with 'Christians Awake', for the last ride, but usually there were several 'last rides' and all was to be quiet by 11 pm.

May Day was the next function. The children themselves chose the Queen. The parents (or someone) always provided a beautiful dress. All morning was spent in making the crown, the Orb, and the sceptre in flowers and decorating the throne. There was the crowning ceremony, followed by a procession around the village, care being taken to stop near any housebound people because all the village people took a great interest. 

The only tradition associated with Christmas was the afternoon football match, married versus single. I have heard men who played say that it was terrible trying to run after a huge Christmas dinner, but after about fifteen minutes one felt all right. 
Once the Queen rode on a white horse and once Miss Vinning (the Rector's sister) lent her little cart drawn by little white ponies. There was then country and maypole dancing, followed by a tea for the children. 

In August came the Flower Show and Fete. The exhibits were staged in the school and the games and sideshows in the field next to the playground. Mr Williams always lent the field for village occasions. Each year a different part of the playground wall was knocked down to enable people to pass between the field and school without going into the road. Exhibits were good in the show and competition was very keen. There were open classes that attracted gardeners from round about. An interesting class was for the women -the best cooked dish of potatoes to be staged at 12 o'clock. The show eventually became less popular and was discontinued. During the war an allotment association was formed which held a show in connection with the Dig for Victory campaign. I was surprised to find that the village had its own water supply and sewage system. These were put in during the 1914-18 war. The workmen who were digging the trenches went on strike for another 1/2d. an hour, which they got, bringing the rate up to 4.5d. an hour. The reservoir was at the back of the rectory and the sewage works to the south of the village, where they still are in a much enlarged state. The water was gravity fed so that houses on higher ground could get it. Not all cottages had water inside the house, but fetched it from stand-pipes. Everybody had good sized water butts for a supply of soft water. 

Most of the larger houses are of stone but in 1929 there was a good number of small brick cottages, built from the bricks from the local brick yard. The front door opened into the living room. There was a scullery behind and two bedrooms, though I think in some cases the stairs went straight into the bedroom, through which you went into the other. Outside might be a wash-house with a copper, probably shared by several. Outside toilets were still buckets or - even pits in the houses off the main roads. 

A number of cottages were in yards. Perry's Yard, Watling Yard, Hogg's Yard, Blacksmith's Yard, School Lane (leading to the 'Little School'), Chapel Yard. Off School Lane was a small yard called Monkey Square.

A woman appointed by the church and paid from a charity left for the purpose ran the Little School for under-school-age children. This was a very small amount. The Church of England School, which opened in 1875, had had very little done to it since it was built. The main room had two teachers in it with no division between the classes. The windows being high, the room was dark, and the lower part, being painted dark green, did not improve matters. The annual HMl's report always remarked on the poor light and the fact of two classes in one room. In 1891 the Education Committee said that unless a separate infant room was built, the school would be closed. So the existing girls' closets and cloakrooms were pulled down and a light, airy classroom built. In 1904 partitioning of the big room was recommended by HMI and in 1954 a sliding glass screen was fitted. After the school became controlled in 1949 the LEA began to improve the building and furnishings.

Grundons were builders in the High Street and Booths were builders who had their own work- shop in the old windmill in Bradden Road. Both firms did all kinds of jobs, including repairs to farm implements, carts and wagons. Grundson's workshop could house a large wagon. The wheel wright fascinated me most. The nave or nub was sawn out by circular saw and band saw and finally trimmed by hand. These had to be made of elm which was the only wood that would stand up to ten to fourteen mortices for the spokes. As the wheels were dished these mortices were not all at the same angle. Iron bands around the hub strengthened it. The spokes were of oak, finished off by hand with spoke shaves. The felloes, locally called felleys, which formed the outer wheel, were of ash or elm. Hanging on the walls of the workshop were many patterns for felleys, so the correct one could be selected. The spokes were shaped (tenons cut) and driven in to the hub. The felleys were driven on and they were joined by dowels. A band of iron was then measured by a measuring wheel and joined in the blacksmith's shop. The tyre was heated in a special furnace, heated by wood, then dropped red hot over the wheel which was on an iron tyring platform. Men knocked the rim into place with sledge hammers while all other available hands poured water over the wheel. There were clouds of steam and smoke and great urgency followed by sighs of relief. This was a great attraction to passers-by. One of our oldest inhabitants told me how, as a child, she watched Booths heating their tyres in a bonfire. The building in Grundon's yard, which they called the main workshop, was once a chapel. That must have been before the present Methodist Chapel was built. The Methodist Reform Chapel was at the top of Chapel Yard. That and several cottages there are gone and one new house has been built there. Both chapels and the church had very good congregations. 

There were two bakers opposite each other in the High Street and two butchers. One was where the present butcher's is and the other was on the premises of the Robin Hood, now a private residence. There were three general stores -the present two and one opposite the Robin Hood. 

The Post Office was next to the baker's and was part of the big house which was once The Red Lion. A path led up to it but this has now been incorporated into the house and garden. When Joe Hornsby was too crippled with arthritis to run the Post Office it was transferred to Farnham's shop, where Will Farnham became postmaster. It is still on the same premises. 

Basfords had one bus and Mr Rance had a small bus. These ran to Northampton on market days. If you wanted to go to Northampton on other days, you walked to Towcester Station, took the train to Blisworth, where you changed, going through an underground tunnel to the platform for Northampton. A few people who worked in Northampton used this service.

There was little unemployment. Many people worked for 'the toffs' as they were called. There were a number of large houses whose owners were hunting people. They employed a lot of domestic help, gardeners and stable men. Some women took in washing as it was thought that laundries could not be trusted with delicate fabrics. One woman I knew said that in wet weather she made up a good fire at bedtime and spread the sheets and tablecloths over the big table to dry It was a familiar sight to see a man carrying a big clothes basket back to its owner.

Jimmy May was the village carrier. He had a pony and trap and in spite of a wooden leg, he was very nimble getting up and down. He would shop in Towcester for customers. A lot of his work was fetching goods from the station, mostly for the gentry. He brought the school supplies from the station.

Ruben Marriot was another well-known character. He delivered the papers on his tricycle, fetching them from the station. You had to go his house. The Malt House, to pay. He did not collect. He was one of the leaders of Top Chapel, where he played the harmonium.

Jack Cox, plumber and decorator, was very important in village life. He was 33 years on the parish council and 26 of those years were as chairman. He looked after the water supply which had been put in in 1891 and needed frequent attention. The water was pleasant to drink and the villagers were not too pleased when they had to join the Anglia water scheme. The County Library deposited a large box of books at the Cox's and every Friday evening readers went into the house for their books. On average 50 people called for books each week. Mrs Cox did a lot of public work in the village, particularly in organising sewing meetings and sales of work for the church. 

Other well-known families were the Smarts and Farnhams. Mr Will Smart served on the County .Council and Mr Will Farnham was clerk to the parish council. 

There was still a little pillow lace being made in the 1930s. I saw Mrs Pilgrim who had made a lace handkerchief for Princess Mary. Mrs Hornsby used to sit on the Post Office steps to make lace. I also saw Mrs George Smart put away her pillow for the last time. 

There had been a revival of this craft over the last twelve years, and there must be more than a dozen lace makers in the village now. 

The Women's Institute was formed during the early thirties. During the war they organised National savings, making house-to-house visits to sell saving stamps. They made large quantities of jam in various houses under the guidance of Miss Gimson who had trained as a domestic science teacher before she became housekeeper for her father, Rev. Gimson of Bradden. A high standard of jam was required and a thermometer had to be used. The W.I. label became well known and we heard that people in towns were asking for the new brand of jam. One season when there was a heavy crop of plums, W.I. members canned them at the Rectory. We were allowed sugar and a supply of tins and hired a canning machine. The cans were packed, sealed, then boiled in the Rectory copper, and were then put in large baths of cold water and cooled.

Once a week villagers trooped down to the Rectory for a ration of meat pies. This was the government's way of compensating for the lack of British restaurants which were for the benefit of town dwellers. There was also a cake van which came round weekly to help rationing problems.

Oliver Brown was a market gardener working on ground opposite the church and taking his produce round the village and to Towcester on a pony cart. At that time almost all houses had a good-sized garden and grew most of their own vegetables. They needed to for financial reasons.

In 1949 the Folk Dance Group was formed. This is still in existence. Many events have bee n run by its members in the neighbourhood, at Youth Clubs, Fetes, W.I.'s and other social groups. Their first big show was a folk festival held in the grounds of Greens Norton Hall by kind permission of Mr Guiness. This was to celebrate the Festival of Britain. The children also took part, including a team of boys who did a sword dance.

There has been no house building for many years except for the council houses in Mill Lane These houses had been built with the luxury of a bath. This was, however, in the kitchen and covered over with a top, which served as a table when not required for bathing.