Theresa Gale remembers
Theresa was one of those old village people, kind, gentle, smiling and seemingly content with life. She was born in 1905 in Bromham so her early memories come from there. She married in 1926 and became a Lavington lady. She died in 1994.
This piece she wrote appeared in a Womens’ Institute production called ‘Within Living Memory. It dates from 1993.
In the Village of Bromham where I lived, when a couple were married and a baby didn’t arrive until nine months had passed, the vicar’s wife would present the couple with a hand-made christening gown. I still have the one given to my parents, and it must be one hundred years old now.
My family consisted of five brothers and one sister, plus an orphan boy cousin. Just imagine wash day, all the water had to be drawn from a well shared by three houses – think of the shirts, pinafores, petticoats, bed linen, starched tablecloths – all washed by hand, and my mother didn’t have a mangle for years. On ironing day, my father would make up a huge fire and the irons would be heated in the bars kept in place by the poker.
The women used to help with potato planting and picking and also pea picking, otherwise they had enough to do looking after their large families. We always went to Sunday School and no one would have been allowed in a place of worship without the head being covered.
During the, summer holiday several families would get together and walk to the top of Roundway Hill, Devizes, about two miles away and spend a day there. The children took tin trays with them, and we used to sit on them and whizz down the hill. There was a dew pond built by Smiths of Market Lavington, which we all paddled in. Once my grandmother decided to have a go. Unfortunately she slipped and sat down in the water. We helped her up and she calmly took off her wet knickers and hung them on a bush to dry, much to the amusement of all us children. Late afternoon we lit a bonfire and fetched some water from a barn at the bottom of the hill and boiled the kettle for tea. Afterwards we cleared up all the rubbish and wend our way home, tired but very happy. Such happy days.
In my childhood days, the roads weren’t like they are today. I can remember heaps of large stones by the side of the road and a man with a long handled hammer and dark glasses to protect his eyes cracking the stones. That was quite a common sight.
In the holidays my father would drive us to market in a pony and trap, and near the bottom of Dunkirk Hill is a farm called ‘The Ox House’ and in those days (89 years ago) there was a large figure of an ox over the front porch and my father told us that every time the ox heard the clock strike twelve, it would come down and go in to dinner. We used to beg our father to be passing at twelve, but, of course, he never would. I wonder what happened to the ox, but it’s still called Ox House Farm.
Market Day was quite different to what it is today. The market place would be filled with rows of cages containing rabbits, ferrets, ducks, hens, cockerels and there were pens for animals, all to be sold by two auctioneers shouting against each other. If we were lucky we were treated to faggots and potatoes (no frozen peas in those days!) at a little shop in Northgate Street owned by Wordleys, I’ve never tasted faggots so good as they were.
Saturday nights we always had a bath in front of the fire. It was lovely being dried in the warm. My sister and I had a lot of hair, which was washed every week and every day my mother would go through it with a small tooth comb, because nearly all the girls had lice, but we never did due to my mother’s care.
In my young days the girls had wooden hoops and the boys iron ones, and we used to trundle them miles. We played hopscotch, marbles, whip-tops and tag. In the evenings my father taught us all sorts of card games and then we had ludo and draughts to amuse us.
I can remember the Coronation of King George and Queen Mary in 1911. I still have my husband’s and my coronation cups. In my village we had a big get together in a field. The band played, there were all sorts of things on and we all had free tea. What I can remember most is a chip van outside the field and we were all treated to a pennyworth of chips done up in newspaper. You see my mother never cooked any chips, so they were a treat.
My teenage years and War Time
In my teenage years I went to dances and in the beginning it was the quadrilles and polka, and then we moved to the valeta, waltz, foxtrot and lancers. I loved being swung off my feet in the lancers, it’s so different today. If we went to Devizes to a dance we all had cards and the young men would write their names down for the dance they wanted. The girls all wore long dresses.
Another great day in our lives was the killing of a pig and a butcher would come and joint it for us. My mother made black puddings and we cleaned the henge and plaited it up and it was called chitterlings. I would like to taste some now, “we’ had’ the liver and we melted down the flecks for lard which we used on toast .Then my father would salt the whole side of bacon which hung on the pantry wall and keep us going all the Winter.
Four of my brothers were older than us two girls and it was getting a problem about baths for them, so when Devizes Prison closed down my father bought a bath from the sale and he built a little wooden room next to the boiler and installed the bath. By then we had a pump so it was easier to fill the copper which heated the water for the bath. No one else had a bath in the neighbourhood. When the village football team played at home my
brothers used to bring their mates home to wash in our bath – didn’t they have fun -all my life I’ve had lot of menfolk friends.
My father was a small holder, but he also cut men’s hair on a Saturday evening for 4d. Three of my brothers went to the First World War, two were wounded, but they all came back. One family in the village lost three sons. I can remember the papers at that time -each day the front page was covered with columns of soldiers killed.
Every year a ‘hospital week’ was held in aid of Devizes Hospital. It culminated with a procession led through the village by the village band, and we ended up dancing in the field.
My father had a lovely voice and every year he joined a group and they went carol singing and one year I went with them. On the Christmas morning we met in the village and sang “Christians Awake, Salute the Happy Morn”. Whether we were appreciated or not I don’t know, as it was only six o’clock!
Memories of Market Lavington
Before the army took over Salisbury Plain, there were lots of farms up there and every Saturday night the farmers and their families came down to the village, as the shops stayed open until 10 o’clock. The men went to the pub and the women did their shopping, caught up with the village news and visited their friends.
The children that lived on the hill were let out of school early during the winter, so that they could get home before dark. One day they were caught in a snowstorm and lost their way. Eventually, they were found huddled together under a hayrick.
When I was married in 1926 lots of people in this village had to fetch their water from a stream that is still running now. I can see them now with a yoke across their shoulder with two buckets. Then there was the nightsoil business. Lots of it had to be carried through the houses to the street. It was done at night. As for toilet rolls, they haven’t been about that long, we used to cut up squares of newspaper and hang them in the toilet. Then there were lamps to fill and the glasses to clean, a candle to go to bed – and get up in the morning and light a fire to boil the kettle and to get some warmth. What a blessing when we could buy a primus.
I’d been married four years and just had my first baby when Market Lavington W.I. was formed – it was 1930. I’m the only founder member still alive. We always started the meeting by singing ‘Jerusalem” but we don’t now. We were pleased with our Institute because we lived six miles from the nearest town, the men could go to pub, but not us women. When we had a speaker from away, we had to put her up for the night as there was no transport to get her home. There were hardly any cars then.
We used to have a lovely Christmas party and we could each invite one person, and everybody wanted to come. Every year the butcher, who was a middle-aged man, would have the polka with me, and when it was over he’d book me up for the next year.
In the beginning we had a very good choir, which won at several festivals, and also a folk dancing team. Now we play whist, scrabble and skittles.
And then when the wireless came it altered our lives. We had a little crystal set and my husband had one earpiece and I had the other, and we listened to the Savoy Orpheans.
I really must stop now, but I could go on and on – but would anyone be really interested!
FROM: THERESA GALE, 38 THE .SPRING, MARKET LAVINGTON
And the answer to that last question is, of course, ‘yes, we would’.