A Vanished Past – Time of Change (2 of 3)

A Vanished Past – Vol.1 –  A Time of Change (2 of 3)

Changes in Health provision –Robert Pearson writes about his sister Joan’s admission from The School House to hospital in the early 1920s with scarlet fever:

‘Even some of the ambulances were still horse driven in those days. A very early, traumatic experience was when Joan was perhaps five or six years of age. She was diagnosed as having scarlet fever, then a much feared disease, passed on by direct contact with somebody who already had it. Presumably, in this case, from another child in my mother’s school. It involved going into an isolation hospital on the outskirts of Banbury. I remember so well this ambulance turning up late one afternoon shortly before it got dark – so it must have been in autumn, a time of the year when this disease was most likely to strike – and Joan being driven away. It was a Dickensian scene. The driver sat outside the cab on a high seat (presumably so that he would not be contaminated), and this made the scene somewhat macabre. Consequently she was all alone for the four-mile journey into hospital. When we went to see her the next day, and on subsequent visits, we were only allowed to see into her ward through a window. It left one with a feeling of great anxiety. However, all was well and she was home again after a few weeks. In those days this infection was considered very serious, and could in the worst cases lead to death. Now one never seems to hear of it – another disease brought fully under control.’

My own early childhood in the first half of the 1940s was free of any vaccinations except a smallpox vaccine as a baby. My sisters and the rest of Horley’s child population suffered spotty bodies, fevers, vomiting, sore throats, pains in the eyes, and headaches that came as a result of measles, German measles (rubella), mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough (pertusis) as they swept round the village. Although unwelcome there were mantras murmured by tired parents that at least the illnesses were over and that the younger the child, the quicker the recovery.

The most dreaded infection was polio where there were high rates of permanent disability or death. We saw the effect on Modesta Collar who from her teenage years had to walk with a stick. In the early 1950s Peggy Ann, the little daughter of Minnie Shawyer, died of infantile paralysis as it was also known. Epidemics of the other illnesses sometimes left tragedy in their wake too, and slightly before our time a young girl in Hornton had died of diphtheria – so there was always some anxiety about the outcome.

So we stoically endured these childhood illnesses as if they were rites of passage. Strictly speaking they were not childhood illnesses. Adults were not immune from them and the impact could be far more severe. My parents’ generation could only be protected from Smallpox. My mother had two wheals on her upper arm: large oval imprints with about six needle marks in each to commemorate her inoculation as a child against this deadly disease, now almost forgotten.

However, remarkable improvements in preventive medicine were afoot – something that made life much safer for all of us. A diphtheria, tetanus and measles vaccination was introduced in the late 1940s while I was in Horley School and was administered to us by the school doctor, Dr Ann Davies and Nurse Prescott. The needles were large and extremely painful and we nursed swollen arms for a week or more. By the late 1950s BCG for Tuberculosis (TB) was introduced – administered on a cube of sugar. Shân and Honor my younger sisters both had this advantage, but teenagers of my age and older were excluded from the programme. Shân further benefitted from advances in medical knowledge and experimental surgery, saving her from the life-threatening condition myasthenia gravis.

Untitled_22590132204_lEntertaining  – In the 1940s Horley’s polite society invited each other to tea. This could be modest: Barry Dunwoody remembers going with his grandmother Mrs Jelfs to have tea with Mrs Chapman and Miss Chapman at Park House where they always had tea and arrowroot biscuits.

The rules of Afternoon Tea were ritualistic. Arrival at 3.30pm in best clothes, gentle non-controversial conversation, the best (sometimes hand-embroidered) white linen tablecloth with sharply ironed fold marks and a crocheted edge, with the best china. Then either biscuits, or in affluent homes a plate of buttered bread cut extremely thinly from a loaf that had to be several days old to acquire the right refined thinness, jam in a special glass pot with its own jam spoon, and a single layer of Victoria sponge cake cut through and smeared with raspberry jam, and occasionally jam tarts.

Everyone sat upright hands in laps, no elbows on the table, small napkin on lap, bread and cake cut into small morsels and not bitten off in chunks. Children generally waited to be spoken to, and everybody waited to be offered food. It was not polite to complain about discomfort, so when Barry Dunwoody wearing short trousers had to sit on Mrs Chapman’s chair which had a seat stuffed with horse hair, he had to suffer the prickliness on his legs in silence.

One of the social niceties I found difficult to acquire was when to decline invitations to another piece of cake, when I would have liked it, and what words to use. It was at odds with the principle of always telling the truth in life. My mother also asked us not to use the words ‘I’m full up’, nor the grandiloquent ‘I have had an adequate/elegant sufficiency’. I learned to say ‘No, thank you very much’, which was a lie. It was all very difficult for a child.

The mid 1950s saw the last days of the afternoon tea ritual. Coffee and homemade cake at eleven in the morning took over – it was informal, quicker, could be fitted in after cleaning and before lunch, required less preparation, and the complications of tablecloths and napkins and sitting round a table were abandoned.

The other joy was the introduction of alcohol into our lives: sherry parties on Boxing Day, and soon sherry parties to celebrate anything. Then in the late 50s we graduated to something approaching the cocktail parties we read about in the magazines – well, not quite, not the cocktails themselves, but these were the hey-days of pearl onions, and tinned pineapple chunks with cubes of cheddar cheese speared on cocktail sticks and stuck into a grapefruit. It was all new, exciting and terribly sophisticated!

The range of food expanded beyond our dreams. Not only did bananas enter our diet after the war, but stranger things – in the early 1960s Shân Morgan, my sister bought one very expensive avocado from The Greengrocer in Warwick Road. It was hard but we were determined to like it. At the end of the 1950s it was noised abroad that a Chinese restaurant had opened in Stratford, and not long afterwards there was one in Banbury, and we self-consciously tried chopsticks. My first struggle with real spaghetti bolognese was in Oxford about the same time; and my first curry in Tiger Bay in the early 1960s. I and the rest of the UK have never looked back.

Walks –  Sunday afternoons after Sunday School was a time when families who had not fallen asleep after the Sunday roast would take a walk along the roads out of the village, joining up with each other and taking time to have leisurely conversations. In urban or seaside places it might have been called promenading. It was more strolling than power-walking: parents chatting and children and dogs dashing off into the hedgerows and fields.

Until the early 1960s there was still a tradition that Sunday was a day of rest, and so Jim Eadon of Chapel Cottage who never darkened the doorway of either church or chapel, was deeply offended that his neighbour Theo Peake of Hillside Farm had a modern suburban habit of motor-mowing his lawn on Sunday afternoon.

Saturday night was by custom bath night. On Sunday people discarded their work clothes, cleaned their shoes, and wore their best clothes to go to services.

For a number of families the day was ordered by the times of the church and chapel services, and this was signalled by the church bells so the whole village knew. On a still day this was reiterated by the sound of Drayton’s bells drifting across the fields. Although there were always animals that needed attention, farmers did not plough or even harvest on Sunday unless it was urgent – partly because the labour was not available.

But this was a time of change: young bellringers left the village and the bells ceased to ring. The seven-day imperatives of the food market and the efficient use of expensive farm machines prevailed. As more people bought motorbikes and cars, Sunday the day of rest was spent away from the village.

On weekday afternoons mothers with prams or push chairs might take a brisk walk before other children came home from school. No parents ever walked to the school to meet their child – there was not the time to do so, and it was not the custom.

Coming up in the 3rd and final part:

  • The decline of the village
  • The Impact of the two World Wars
  • The Evacuees and other Strangers
  • Agricultural mechanisation
  • Thatched roofs
  • A Better Britain – Regenerating Horley
  • Secondary Education –
  • Abandoned Untidiness to Village pride
  • The New Council Houses

Clare Marchant, June 2015

Clare MarchantThe is an extract from A Vanished Past Volume 1, each Volume is £15 +P&P  or you can buy both for £33 incl. p&p.

They are available directly from Clare , Shaftesbury House, 15 Circus Street, Greenwich, London SE10 8SN or marchantclare@hotmail or call on 020 8858 8529. Cheques payable to Clare Marchant.

Clare Marchant was born in Horley Vicarage, Oxfordshire in 1941 and spent her formative years there until 1965. She now lives in Greenwich, London

First published in 2015. All rights reserved. The rights of Clare Marchant to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the consent of © Clare Marchant.  Copyright for each image rests with the contributor.