THE  CLOSE by  Anthony Biles

 

The Close, my home, was accessed via a little jetty from the drive to The Manor where it swept around to the left, or by footpaths across the field in front or behind.

There used to be access off the manor road into the farmyard fronting Rogers Lane with wagon sheds alongside. The wall has evidence of where this was bricked up. The buildings on the left of this road contained stables, the Kings brother’s carpenters’ shop, hovels for the almshouse and the lavatory with its outlet on the field side where ashes and kitchen waste were also deposited.

I will always think of The Close as my home. To me it was a lovely house full of character with its old copper and bread oven. The winter mornings though could be icy cold, with a thick layer of frost on the inside of the bedroom windows. This would mean dressing downstairs in front of a freshly lit fire with no thought of the fact that someone had come downstairs earlier and empted the grate of the previous days ashes and lit a new fire. Bath nights were also labour intensive. The old copper had to be lit to heat up the water that had been carried in by bucket from the pump as was the tin bath that hung on the wall outside. This was put on the stone floor, which meant the bottom never did get warm. Afterwards the water had to be empted, again by bucket, down the drain outside.

The house had three bedrooms and four rooms downstairs. In earlier years the single storey part of The Close was used as a night school for farm boys taught by Mrs Rodgers who later lived at the Old Bakery. The end of this single storey part, accessible from outdoors only, was called the hovel where coal was stored and also contained the lavatory that included a child’s seat.

The garden was large enough to grow plenty of vegetables. There would be potatoes, peas, carrots, parsnips, broad beans, runner beans and tomatoes. Runner beans were salted down for use during the year and potatoes stored in sacks in the hovel. There was also a Victoria plum tree with a hollow in which bluetits nested each year. Other fruits grown were gooseberries, blackcurrants, strawberries and raspberries, so as well as plenty of vegetables there were also homemade jams too. My father enjoyed his gardening in spite of the long hours he worked at the shop and often entered his vegetables in the local flower show and was always pleased when he won one of the classes.

Behind The Close was an open field that belonged to Ivy House Farm opposite the Post Office. It was criss-crossed by footpaths as it was access to the shops from The Square and used by village people going to their places of work.

The farm changed hands many times. Mrs Mary Watts farmed it in 1934 but she was followed by the Kibbles and later the Baileys. It was another place that I would visit on occasions to see the cows milked, cream separated off and oats rolled for feed.

 

              FIELD  BEHIND  THE  CLOSE 

There were two ponds in the field. One was more like a depression in the ground and only filled up in the winter months but when frozen it was ideal for slides as it was never very deep and quite safe if the ice did break. On a number of occasions I have walked across that field at night with no torch listening for the breathing of cows so they could be avoided.

 FOOTPATHS and PONDS
The field in front of The Close was our playground when we were young. Our cricket pitch was the path, being the flattest part and anthills our goalposts when playing football. There was always the risk of cowpats bringing a halt to proceedings as the cows were sometimes left in this field during the daytime between morning and evening milking. Play would be stopped whilst it was debated as to who should clean the ball. It was also an ideal area where to learn to ride a bicycle. Whilst the going was rough falling off did involve a softer landing, avoiding the cow pats of course. We were told though that it would make us grow.

KEN COX (batting) and MYSELF

 

            The proximity of the milking sheds was always useful. Whilst milk was delivered daily by pail and measured out on the doorstep, there were the odd occasions when we ran short, so at milking time it was a visit to the sheds with jug in hand. There was a bull kept in one off the sheds and sometimes we would sneak down to have a look at him but run away when he turned around and stared at us with his big eyes.

 

FARMYARD and WELL

 

The bakery in Rogers Lane was always a nice place to visit on a cold morning. With the oven going full blast it was very cosy with Mr Archie Rogers and Mr Tom Walton busy kneading the dough very skilfully with a piece in each hand. The greased tins would be all lined up ready for the dough and on another table lovely golden crusty bread that had already been removed from the oven. For a growing lad I think it was the smell of freshly baked bread that was the main attraction.

Being near The Close it was convenient for a visit when bread was required, but the temptation of a freshly baked loaf was always too much so by the time I arrived back home there were always “mouse holes” in it.

Archie’s grandfather James came to Ettington as a Baker around the 1840’s from Middleton Cheney in Northants so the family had been well established as the suppliers of bread to the village by the time I came along.

Another local attraction was the Kings carpenters shop next to the jetty by the manor. As you walked through the door you were greeted with the smell of wood shavings that always seemed to be ankle deep on the earthen floor. It was Jimmy King and his son George who I remember. George sadly lost his life during the war. They would turn their hands to the villager’s requirements, gates, wheelbarrows and general repairs and also painting and decorating.

There were two ponds in Rogers Lane one of which, next to the farm buildings, is no longer there. It bordered the lane and had a curved brick wall around the back. The cows would drink from it when they came to be milked from Ash Close, which is where the sports field is now. As youngsters this pond was a favourite for catching newts and tadpoles as it was not as deep as the one in the field opposite and more easily accessible. Adjacent to the pond was an orchard with four majestic elm trees at the entrance.

 

ELM  TREES

During my younger years there was a predominance of these tall trees, which alas, are only seen now as hedgerows or small trees that quickly disappear when they fall into the clutches of Dutch elm disease. I would often go to sleep on a windy night listening to it whistling it’s way through their tops.

There would be visits to the village from Mayos of Shipston the timber merchants. News would quickly circulate around the children and we would arrive to see the trees they had come to fell come crashing to the ground. Sometimes it would be with the help of a team of horses and at others by using the steam traction engines they also had. The trunks were then trimmed of all branches and pulled up side ramps by horses or steam power onto a wagon and then they would set off on their journey back to Shipston. The residue left, before it was cut up for winter fuel, was a marvellous playground for us children.

Part of the manor next to The Close was used as housing for village people. The left wing was divided into small houses referred to as almshouses where elderly or poor people of the village lived. Caroline and Polly East lived in two of them when I was young and I would visit them to see Caroline’s “Cat’s Whisker” radio and Polly’s weather house on her mantelpiece. If the weather was going to be fine the old lady would be out, if not the old man would be standing outside. The rear corner of the manor was divided into two cottages; one was occupied by Mr and Mrs Harry Taylor and the other by William and Priscilla Berry. These people used one half of what is now The Close garden.

The family moved to the shop after my grandfather’s death but returned to The Close after the shop was sold in the early 1950’s.

© Tony Biles