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Old Arbury - The Arbury Road Dough Monster and the Chickens with a Safe Billet...

Richard and Amelia Brett with their dog, Nell, in the Park Meadow at Manor Farm - later the site of Manor School/North Cambridge Academy.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was common for housewives to prepare dough for bread at home and then take it to the local baker to be baked. This was exactly what Mrs Amelia Brett of the Manor Farm on Arbury 'Meadow' Road, did.

The dough would be wrapped in a sheet and placed in a pram to be taken to Chesterton village. The task of transporting the dough was entrusted to one or two of her eleven children.

One hot summer's day, in the early 1890s, Amelia entrusted her daughters Elizabeth and Louisa with the task. They had never done it before - and so were rather pleased.

But not for long.

The large amount of dough in the pram kept causing it to tip from side to side, and as the girls pushed the sheet-wrapped bundle back into the carriage, something very odd began to happen.

It began to swell.

The sheet began to fill and overflow the pram and, as they attempted to quell it by pushing it back in, the situation only got worse.

It was up by the Manor Farm's old Union field, on the corner of Arbury 'Meadow' Road and the Ely/Milton Road, that the girls came to a stop.

When Manor Farm was sold in 1909, the Union Field and Milton Road Field were sold separately as 'valuable building land.'

The dough had become a monster, the sheet billowed ominously, and the pram was no longer moveable.

The girls burst into tears of frustration - and fear!

'We'd probably have been there to this day,' said Louisa in 1965, 'if a kind gentleman on a bicycle hadn't stopped. He explained to us that, in trying to get the dough under control, we'd also been kneading it - and what with the heat as well... he heaped the dough back in so we could get down to Old Chesterton. I've never forgotten the Dough Monster!'

Each year, after the harvest, Amelia gathered her children around her and took them 'gleaning' in the Manor Farm fields, gathering up the ears of wheat that had been left to be thrashed and ground into flour to make more bread.

Like Amelia, her husband, Richard, was not somebody who minded working.

'Grandad Brett worked very hard indeed,' said his granddaughter, Mrs Muriel Wiles in 1986. 

Over the years, Richard was a farm labourer, horse keeper, goat keeper, pig keeper, smallholder and worked at the sewage farm on Milton Road...

'He often had several jobs at the same time,' said Mrs Wiles. 

Of her mother's wedding, Mrs Wiles said: 'They looked as if they owned the Earth in the photograph. But they didn't. Grandad was a very hard worker and kept the family in as much comfort as he could.

'He got some chickens for Gran to keep because she liked them, but she liked them so much she'd never allow any to be killed for meat!'

The eggs produced by these lucky birds were remembered as being particularly nice. Mrs Wiles, and others in the family, often wondered if this was because they somehow knew they had a safe billet!


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