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The 1890s Arbury Child: 'Your Father's Working On Arbury', The Docky, The Beer, And The Rational Fear Of Chesterton Doors...

Louisa Brett - part of a school group photograph taken at St Andrew's School, High Street, Chesterton, c. 1894.

What was it like to be an Arbury child in the 1890s?

Well, thanks to the long ago recollections of some people who were actually there, we can get an idea...

Mrs Louisa Ashman, née Brett, lived in Springfield Terrace, West Chesterton (or New Chesterton), from around 1916 to her death in 1968.

She was full of memories of her childhood at the Manor Farm on Arbury Meadow Road, and many of these were recorded on paper as interest in Arbury grew with the building of the original Arbury Estate in the 1950s and 1960s.

Louisa's daughter, Mrs Muriel Wiles, passed much of this information on to her cousin's grandson in the 1980s and we are very lucky to have it.

Louisa was the third child of Richard and Amelia Brett and born in 1884. Richard was a labourer and also the horse keeper at Manor Farm. 

Louisa remembered being given a black hair ribbon to wear as a young woman, as a sign of mourning for Queen Victoria, who died in 1901.

School for Louisa was St Andrew's in High Street, Chesterton, and she often recalled that the journey, once the High Street was reached, was a wary one...

'If a front door opened, and a lot of them opened on to the pavement, you stepped away, quick - often people were about to hurl out teapot dregs - or worse - and they had no regard for people passing by!'

Being one of eleven children, Louisa once commented on a common misconception of people in the mid-20th Century, who gaped aghast at old country cottages and said things like: 'Just think! They had eleven children in there!'

'Well, that's a silly view,' she said. 'Of course, the children weren't all there together. My oldest brother was born in 1881 and my youngest sister in 1899, and we left school when we were eleven. So, the oldest would be off in the world when the youngest were being born. We girls went into service or worked in knitting factories, things like that. One of my sisters was apprenticed to a tailoress. For the boys, it was mainly farm labouring.'

Several amusing anecdotes were passed down by Louisa and are still enjoyed by the family generations on.

'Now, all the fields at the Manor Farm had names and that was so you knew where the men were. They'd be sent to work "on Boy's Pit" or "on the First Watercourse" or "on Arbury" or "Arbury Field" or whatever.

'In the summer, my father liked to have a barrel of beer in the outhouse so he could have a jug with his docky - and that was his midday meal. He never came home for it. It was pork and bread or  cheese and bread, and he'd cut it up with his knife and eat it where he was. The men didn't have time for hanging about or going back to their houses.

'One hot day, when I was about seven or eight, my mother said to me: "Your father's working on Arbury. Fill his jug and take him some beer for his docky." Now, "Arbury" was right beside Arbury Road, and not far from our house. So I went to the outhouse and filled his jug at the barrel. And then the devil got into me and I decided to taste some. And then just a drop more...

'Well, you've guessed what happened, haven't you? By the time my mother came to see where I was, I was flat on the floor, in a right old pickle.

'She pushed my head under the pump to sober me up, I can still feel the icy water, and I'll never forget the roaring great headache I had after.'

For the rest of her days, Louisa was always a very moderate drinker.

'I wouldn't want to have that headache again!' she said.

More Arbury Snippets very soon.

The field Louisa's father was working on is marked here. Note 'Arbury Field' beside it.

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