Skip to main content

An Old Arbury Christmas... The Mysterious Tramp, A New Peg Rug And 'Poor Puss'...

Richard and Amelia Brett with their dog, Nell, at the Manor Farm, Arbury Road, 1913. The photograph was taken in the farm's 'Park' meadow - later the site of Manor School/North Cambridge Academy. The Bretts usually had family photographs taken in the 'Park'. 'Arbury' and 'Arbury Field' (on the other side of the Manor Farm 'Drive'/Campkin Road) were cultivated, but the 'Park' was a grassed meadow - sometimes used for grazing.

Looking back at how Christmas was celebrated at the Manor Farm on Arbury Road, over one hundred years ago... 

The Bretts, Richard and Amelia, lived at the Foreman's/horse keeper's house at the Manor Farm from 1886 to the early 1920s. They had eleven children and many grandchildren. 

Richard and Amelia were married at St Andrew's Church, Impington, on 19/10/1880, and moved to King's Hedges a couple of years later. King's Hedges was a fifty eight acre farm, north of what is now King's Hedges Road. In those days, the road was a much-shorter unnamed private farm track, simply leading across the railway (now the guided busway) to the farm. See the map at the bottom of this post.

In 1886, the Bretts left King's Hedges and moved to the Manor Farm, which was north of Arbury Road. Their house was opposite the farm's Stable Field (now Arbury Town Park), facing sideways, and beside the farm's Park meadow (Manor School/North Cambridge Academy). 

Extract from a forthcoming book:

Some months before Christmas each year, Amelia liked to start work on a new peg rug. She would gather together old clothes that she had saved, all things made of thick materials, and cut them into small strips. These she would peg through a large oblong or square of canvas with a hook. Each piece of material was tied in a secure knot at the back and, gradually, colourful patterns were built up.

The end result was always a fine new peg rug to place in front of the fire. To Amelia, the festive season would not have seemed quite right without one! As Christmas drew near, she would “set to” and clean her house “from top to bottom”!

On Christmas Eve Day, Richard and Amelia's eldest daughter, Elizabeth Jones, and her family, would emerge from their house in Trafalgar Street. There would be an air of excitement, for that day was Christmas shopping day.

'They’d make their way up Victoria Avenue,' Mrs Muriel Wiles, Richard and Amelia's granddaughter, recalled in 1985. 'The meat was bought from Waller’s and all sorts of lovely things to eat from Finch’s, next door. Everything was taken up to Manor Farm in a wheelbarrow - with the Christmas tree on top!'

The decorations were put up at the farmhouse on Christmas Eve. 'Uncle Albert used to save all his old wallpaper sample books so we could make paper chains from them!' Mrs Wiles recalled.

Amelia always prepared a special supper for Christmas Eve. Her family would assemble to feast on cakes, rabbit pies, a whole tongue and numerous other treats. The big dining table would be absolutely laden!

On Christmas Day, Richard and Amelia’s grandchildren got their presents. Their eyes would light up as they were each presented with a Christmas stocking, usually containing such delights as a mouth organ, a bugle, a bag of sweets and a puzzle.

Young aunts Cissie and Lily would chip in with ordinary stockings, loaded with nuts and an apple.

The day would pass with food aplenty, carols round the piano and games. After a huge tea, everybody would retire to the 'best room' and the lamp would be lit. Amelia would then go upstairs for a well-earned rest while the children played and the adults chatted or dozed.

After a while, each year the same, there would come a knock at the front door. One of the adults would go to answer it and then, as the children looked on, usher in a shabby figure dressed in dirty old trousers, jacket, muffler and cap. 'Could you have pity on a poor old tramp at Christmas?' he would beg.

The tramp was always welcomed and invited to sit by the fire for a warm. He would be presented with a plate of things to eat and something to drink, and food would be put in a bag for him to take away with him and eat 'on the road'. He would then thank everybody, most humbly, and leave.

The children sometimes wondered about the tramp who called at Manor Farm each and every Christmas, but was invisible for the rest of the year. Many years later, Mrs Wiles, chatting to her mother, remembered him. 'Just think, he only passed this way once a year,' she mused. 'I wonder who he was?'

Her mother looked at her in amazement. 'Why, don’t you know who it was?!' she exclaimed. 'It was your gran!'

A highlight of Christmas Night at Manor Farm was a game of 'Poor Puss'. For this, Amelia would get down on her hands and knees and pretend to be a cat. 

'She would meow most pitifully, spit and hiss like cats fighting, and contort her face into the most comical expressions imaginable!' said Mrs Wiles.

The children had to sit straight-faced, perhaps giving 'Puss' an occasional sympathetic pat, and say, 'poor puss, poor puss'. Anybody that laughed was 'out' and the child that kept a straight face to the end won an apple as a prize. It was well deserved!

Richard always enjoyed the festive season, but he kept a sharp eye on the Christmas cake. As noted earlier, Richard had a passion for cake - and Christmas cake in particular!

When the object of his desire was placed on the table, he would sigh, as if over a work of art: 'Look at that! It’s far too beautiful to eat! Let’s all have a look at it, then put it away.'

The adults present were not fooled for a moment, but it was the festive season and they'd had loads to eat already, so Richard was indulged and the cake put away in the cupboard. Richard enjoyed large slabs of Christmas cake well into January. They livened up his 'docky' - his midday meal which he ate out in the fields - a treat!

'Grandad Brett worked very hard indeed,' said Mrs Wiles. 'He worked on the farm and got a smallholding when it was sold to the County Council, was horse keeper, started up and ran a huge piggery, kept goats... he never stopped working. So nobody minded his yearly treat!'

Old Arbury, around 1900. The Bretts' house is marked with an 'X'.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What Did The Romans Ever Do for Arbury? Jim Smith

Our trusty old Arbury map showing location details before the Manor Farm was established. The red line, inserted by Jim Smith, indicates the course of the Roman road - Akeman Street or the Mere Way. The land north of Arbury Road was the Arbury or Harborough Meadows, Arbury/Harborough furlongs and Arbury Camp, King's Hedges was in its original position, north of the railway (now guided busway) and Arbury Road ran from the Ely/Milton Road to the Histon/Cambridge Road - as it did until the late 1970s. Introduction - by the Arbury Archivists Jim Smith is a local history researcher and a good friend of the Arbury Cambridge Blog. He has been researching Roman finds in the historic Arbury area and has written this article for us. We are most grateful! He follows the adventures of those who scraped away centuries of soil to reveal ancient findings beneath.  Of course, as always, we deal with historic Arbury here, not council planners' estates or electoral wards, which are both prone to

Exploring The REAL King's Hedges...

The Cambridge and St Ives Branch railway line is now the Guided Busway. Where was King's Hedges historically? How did the name come about? Why is the majority of King's Hedges Road no more historic than late 1970s - and nothing to do with the course of the original road? What have council planners of the 1960s and 1970s and the needs of motorists got to do with the King's Hedges presence in the historic Arbury district? All will be revealed... We're going to leave Arbury briefly and go to King's Hedges. No, not King's Hedges Ward - that area is, in reality, one of the most Arbury of Arbury areas in Cambridge historically, but the REAL King's Hedges. North of the Guided Busway. You see, the land north of Arbury Road is the site of the Arbury Camp, the Arbury/Harborough (a variation on the Arbury name) Meadows and the Arbury fields of Manor Farm.  It has absolutely nothing to do with King's Hedges at all. And King's Hedges was never a district. Land no

Main Streets of Arbury: Campkin Road - Part 1

Left: work begins on Campkin Road in 1961. Numbers 1 and 2 Manor Farm Cottages have been demolished, but the intention is to preserve the old trees lining the old Manor Farm Drive. Right: a similar view in more modern times, with the Arbury Town Park and Campkin Road. In 1982, Campkin Road was described as the 'Hauptstrasse of North Arbury' by local journalist Sara Payne. Ms Payne's local history articles in the Cambridge Weekly News were hugely popular and, for each one, Ms Payne visited a street in Cambridge and talked to the residents, collecting their memories for publication and producing a fascinating series of 'Then and Now' style articles. 'Cambridge Weekly News', 1982. Down Your Street followed in the footsteps of a similar series in the local press in the early 1960s - by Erica Dimmock - and both now make fascinating reading. We're starting our look at Campkin Road with material from the 'Arbury 1980' project and accounts from locals

Manor School Memories Part 1

The Manor School on Arbury Road was one of the main focuses of life for North and South Arbury for decades. With its evening classes and youth centre, and various community activities - like the annual Christmas party for the elderly and the annual school play in the 1980s ( Annie Get Your Gun and Dracula Spectacular spring to mind) - the Manor opened as separate boys' and girls' schools in 1959 (the girls had to share the boys' buildings at first as their own were still under construction). The school later became co-ed.      An aerial view of t he Manor Schools - Boys' and Girls', around 1960, with a section of Arbury Road and Arbury Court. Note Arbury Court was yet to gain its library and large supermarket building, and Campkin Road was still the Manor Farm Drive. The side of the Manor School 'new block', built in the early 1970s, the tower block and boys' gym beyond. The school was built in the Park Meadow of the old Manor Farm - which is how the &

Arbury Court - Part Of The 'Centre' Of The Original Arbury Estate...

A view across Arbury Court, looking towards Arbury Road, in 1976. Arbury Court is part of the 'centre' of the original Arbury Estate in Cambridge. The Court, with its pub, supermarket, hardware store and post office, chip shop, newsagent, TV shop, greengrocer, hairdresser, chemist, supermarket and branch library, is part of the 'hub' of the estate. The historic Arbury district. The Arbury or Harborough (the names were variations on each other and interchangeable) Meadows covered most of the land north of Arbury Road. The road ran from Milton Road to the Histon/Cambridge Road until the late 1970s. The Manor Farm was formed in the years following the 1840 Chesterton Enclosures. Orchard Park (originally Arbury Park and, before that, Arbury Camp Farm) features the outline of part of the Arbury prehistoric settlement at Ring Fort Road. We've inserted the sites of Arbury Court, the Guided Busway and Campkin Road. Arbury Road marks the boundary of North and South Arbury, a

Arbury Archaeology and History: Part 1

Imagine an iron age settlement. It is surrounded by a circular earthwork. People live here. There are houses, and pens for animals within the enclosure. Until recent years, it was not believed to be a fort. The settlement is larger than some, but believed to be very much the equivalent of what we now call a village - the earthwork simply to defend it from wolves and animal thieves. The earthwork is filled with water, and reeds and rushes grow there. Despite the naming of the Arbury earthwork as 'Ring Fort Road' in the Arbury Camp Farm Arbury/Orchard Park development, the original height of the earthwork and its enclosed area were not believed to indicate that Arbury was a fort (compare to Wandlebury), and the findings of archaeologists from Cambridge and London from the early 1960s to 1970 discounted the notion. Comment from Arbury Camp, Cambridge, A Preliminary Report on Excavations - by John Alexander and David Trump, 1970: The excavations therefore tend to confirm earlier s

Arbury Snippets Part 4: Arbury Terrace, Arbury Hedges, 19th Century Pugilists, Hunting & Escaped Prisoners At The Real King's Hedges And Suspects On The Arbury Meadows...

We've superimposed the old Arbury Meadows, Furlongs and Corner onto a 1900 map. Remember, the Manor Farm, which covered most of North Arbury (or the Council's inappropriately named 'King's Hedges Ward'), did not exist before the 1840s. Our 1900 map also features the details from the 1840 enclosures map. The names Arbury and Harborough were variations on each other and interchangeable. Whilst the 1840 enclosures map used the 'Harborough' form, an 1839 newspaper article (featured) used the 'Arbury' form. During the late 1800s, the 'Harborough' form all but disappeared. The Arbury name is derived from the Old English for 'earthwork', the earthwork surrounding the iron age settlement at Arbury Camp Farm (now Orchard Park, originally Arbury Park). The earthwork, or at least part of it, was a landscape feature for around 2000 years, and the part of the outline seen on this map is incorporated into the design of Ring Fort Road. Arbury was. f

Ask Arbury: The Roman Villa in Arbury

     E-mail to Arbury Cambridge blog: Was a Roman villa found at King's Hedges? I recently saw an outside display in North Arbury/King's Hedges Ward called 'The Roman Landscape in King's Hedges' which claims there was one. And is King's Hedges Road Roman?  We've seen that display. Electoral wards are not historic areas and local historians really do need to be mindful of that fact. The answer to your question regarding the Roman villa and King's Hedges Road is no. The Roman villa was found on the site of King's Hedges School, which is not part of the historic King's Hedges acres. Historically, King's Hedges was simply a named property, a farm, of fifty eight acres, and is now north of the guided busway. It was never a district. King's Hedges School is dearly loved by many of us and we treasure it, but those in the know accept it's not actually in any historically meaningful King's Hedges district, and the site had nothing to do w

What Arbury Means To You...

We thought it would be good to invite comments (or emails - arburyestate@btinternet.com) from readers about what Arbury means to you. Of course, many have already made their views plain on here, but we like the idea of a dedicated blog post. Please be aware that we are referring to the original Arbury area here, the area between Gilbert Road and King's Hedges Road, not modern electoral wards/misnamed apparently 'separate' housing estates. From 'Arbury is Where We Live!' (1981): Community action has always been important in Arbury. The first Arbury community groups were formed with the building of South Arbury in the 1950s, and North Arbury has seen many fantastic community efforts - resulting in the likes of the Arbury Adventure Playground, Arbury Carnival, Arbury Community Centre and the Arbury Town Park. So, what does Arbury mean to YOU? How long have you lived here? Are you interested in Arbury history? What do you like about Arbury? What do you dislike? What mak

Manor School Memories - Part 2

Lads from the Manor Boys' School in 1960. D. Claton, M. Farrow, R. Mitchell, C. Peck, I. Skeels, R. Potter and G. Paine are present. Do any readers remember who is who? School's back in - Manor School/Community College on Arbury Road that is (now North Cambridge Academy). Here is the second part of our series on Manor Memories - Part 1 is here . Pupils' foreign holiday, 1960: the first Manor girls to go on a joint foreign holiday with Manor boys: G. Anderson, J. Barnes, C. Blackwell, H. Brown, S. Budd, L. Carter, A. Clarke, L. Doggett, C. Doughty, P. Drake, S. Hardy, E. Harradine, B. Kaspar, D. Miller, J. Parker, L. Phillips, J. Reeves, J. Spencer, J. Symonds, with headmistress Mrs Firman. Note the Manor Schools' caretaker's house can be seen in the background, and the trees of the old Manor Farm orchard. October 1960, and here is a view of the Manor Boys' and Girls' schools from the car park at the Snow Cat public house (now the Cambridge Gurdwara). A view