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My life in the village
James Chuck

Oral history recorded by Albert Thom 1983

Chapter Two - Childhood memories and school

I was born in the old cottage up Whites Corner, then we moved from there up Holloways Lane, Pretoria Cottages. We had four rooms, two up, two down, no bath, no sink, cooking range, iron saucepans. Baths in the wash-house. Well for five cottages. Main well for the Village outside Mr. Crawford's. Eleven in the house. Slept where you could, boys and girls together.

I left school at 12, exempt from school, three of us, me and Walter Venables and Percy Carter. No, four, Daniel Woods - forgot him. Venables lived in Woodbine Cottage, Newsagents, well, used to do it once a week like - Sundays. Hated school, except for drawing. Used to like drawing. Played truant many a time. One day we was out in the playground, this balloon come over. A gang of us said come on let's follow it. So we cleared off right across the fields and it dropped at South Mimms.

Went to school next morning and Mr. Mallett said, “All you boys that followed the balloon step out here,” You had six cuts on each hand. Some was crying, some wetted their knickers and all sorts.

Then another day a balloon come over and the anchor was down and it took time chimney pots off opposite the Mens’ Institute, them three houses there. Knocked the chimney pots off No. 23 and landed in, the Sibthorpe field. The man in charge said, “Nobody smoking because of the gas”: They let the gas out, you see. Anyway, they got it all down and folded it up and Nash had them two old carts - never had no cars them days - they folded it up and took it to Hatfield Station.

Before I was twelve I did odd jobs. Used to fetch coal for people, from Dover’s yard, half cwt. at a time, that sort of thing, you know - a ha’penny for a half cwt. Then we used to fetch skimmed milk from Potterells all weathers. Used to go early in the morning, like. Because my father worked at the farm, couldn’t afford new milk, so we used to go up Potterells and buy skimmed milk because it was cheaper, you see. Mrs. Large, the dairywoman, would make butter, which Seymour sent to these gentleman’s houses, Seymour did. Important people, Mr. & Mrs. and Miss Seymour of Potterells, related to the King and Queen. Had to doff our caps to them - always thought it wrong.

Then we did bird scaring. Six pennies a day bird scaring, evenings, weekends. Rattled the old rattle and shouted that little old ditty:

I come with my clappers,
To knock you down back’ards,
Away, birds, away.

Before I left school, they used to come down to school, want two boys to go to market. Every Wednesday up to Barnet with cattle. We knew who got to go, that was me and somebody else - Percy Carter had to come with me sometimes. One used to come back, used to help to do the milking, one used to stop there, perhaps six o’clock at night, perhaps bring some stray cattle home what he’d bought, you know. And we used to have a little lamp with a candle in it, before all the traffic was about, one thing and another. And I went there one morning when I took about 20 sheep, I think it was, that was when cars first come out and when I got to Hadley Wood round that corner, a woman came steaming along there, oh, must’ve been about 40-50 mile all among these sheep, killed two or three of ‘em and I just had the presence enough to take her number, so they got her and she had to pay for it.

Then another day I went there, took some cattle. That was getting on in the spring-time and they’d been shut up all winter, like, fat bullocks, they were. They got on the common, they could smell this water and they got in the pond. I couldn’t get 'em out and I stood on the side of the pond crying. Policeman come up on his bike. He said, “What’s the matter sonny?” I said, “I got these cattle in and I got to be in the market by eleven o’clock”. “Oh, don’t let that worry you”, he said.

So he gets on the bike up the town somewhere, come back with a mounted policeman. He come over, took his feet out of the stirrups, went in the pond and got ‘em out. Wasn’t I pleased! Because I had an old dog with me, fast as he went in the water to get ‘em out, they knocked him under the water and I felt sorry for him and called him out, you see and that was that. Them ponds in them days was bigger’n they are now, that one on the right hand side was a great big pond, that was, and, of course, the cattle being all that time walking, they was thirsty.

Then, one day he bought a cow and calf, what he bought in the market, so Bert Dilley had to stop behind and I had to go home to help milking. Bert was frightened of the dark nights, when it got dark he was scared, so he got half way home and it got a bit dark and he got as far as the Duke of York and he opened a gate and put the cow and calf in there.

So nothing was said till next morning we was milking, so Mr Crawford said to Bert Dilley, he said: “Got that cow and calf home yesterday, boy?” “No, Sir.” He said: “Why?” “The calf got a bit tired, so I opened a gate and put it in the field.” So, he said, “You two best go and get it this morning both on you.” So Bert Dilley being a bit brave he said, “How am I going to get there, Sir?” “Don’t care if you crawl there,” he said, “I’m not taking you.” So we had to walk there and back and that’s how we got the cow and calf home.

What games did we get up to?

Well, just boys’ pranks, that was all, nothing like today. We used to go out at night and muck about, one thing and another. My dad always knew when we’d bin up to mischief because we come home early. So he clouted me once, the old policeman did, and I come and told me father and he give me another one. He said, “I know very well you was doing wrong, else that man wouldn’t have hit you.” So I didn’t tell him any more tales.

And the policeman had a son who was in the Navy, Stan Carter, younger than Percy and us boys was talking round the corner one night and he said, “No drunk man ever frightened me,” he said. So I said to myself, I bet they do. So I said to another bloke we’ll have a game with him tonight. So I got me coat and turned it inside-out. Turned me hat inside out, so that the coat showed the white sleeves. And they was outside the Men’s Institute with this boy, Carter, so I went up the road and come dawn on the other side and started staggering all over the road. Went towards him and he flew. He were’t frightened of drunks! That was a real laugh in the village, that was.

Them days you knew everybody and everybody knew you, sort of style, you know, whereas, now you don’t know nobody. We spent quite a lot of time on that corner before they built the triangle.

There were lots of bats flying in Holloways Lane, they lived in the spinney on the corner, and the boys used to throw their caps in the air to catch them.

Saturday we used to go down Hatfield to the pictures. It was a sloping floor and the chairs was all loose. Me and another bloke used to get at the back, get back against the wall, gave the first one a good shove and all the lot used to go bang, bang, until they got to the bottom. I got banned from going to the pictures. They wouldn’t let me in any more.

Albert Thom 1983

Index and introduction
Chapter One - Memories of grandfather and father
Chapter Two - Childhood and school
Chapter Three - Employment and unemployment
Chapter Four - Days out and marriage
Chapter Five - Winter work and tractors
Chapter Six - War time and family details

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