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Mr and Mrs Pepper of Manor Farm, Arbury Road

One of the things we love best about the Arbury Archive is that much of it contains accounts of life and people in the area that are now beyond living memory. It is always fascinating to study census returns, old newspapers, etc, for details of people long departed, but they usually reveal nothing, or very little, about character.

The handwritten manuscripts, like Gordon Cardinal's The Arbury, seem particularly evocative as they provide a special link back to the writer. Mr Cardinal died in the 1990s, but every time we even glance at the manuscript, his handwriting brings memories of him and his dedication to the Arbury community and its history to life for us.

Many interviews took place with Andy and other Arbury Archivists taking notes, and scrawling quotes, and yet the characters of some of the people who told us their memories also remain strong when reading them. When Andy interviewed Mrs Dora Long, sister of Ernest Sale of Manor Nurseries acclaim, in 1983, she made him a couple of the best cups of tea he's ever had the pleasure to drink, and the memory of both Mrs Long and her house, out on the Babraham Road, live on within him.

Andy, of course, has family connections to the Manor Farm on Arbury Road and his great-grandmother, grandmother, and other relations were a fount of information, all faithfully recorded for the Arbury Archive.

Mr Richard Pepper and his wife, Mary (née Gibson), were tenant farmers at the Manor Farm in the early 1900s and both Mrs Lydia Brett, Andy's great-grandmother, and Mrs Long, knew them and revealed something of their characters.

Our trusty old map of the Arbury district.

Mrs Brett, then Miss Prevett, went into service for the Peppers around 1906. She always spoke highly of them. They treated her very well, and even bought her daughter's christening robe after she married.

One convention of the early 20th Century that was observed at the Manor Farm in Mrs Brett's case was the Mistress's right to give a servant a more 'suitable' name if her name was considered too 'fancy' for a servant. Lydia became 'Annie'.

The Peppers were not hugely wealthy, and Mrs Brett's duties were extended to those of cook as well as domestic as time went on.

Mrs Brett always spoke of one of the Peppers' children, Richard junior, known as Dickie, who was quite a frail child. She was very fond of him.

She moved with the Peppers to Little Abington after the sale of Manor Farm to the County Council in 1909, and continued courting Henry Brett of Manor Farm, who regularly cycled out to Abington to see her. She married him in 1910.

Charles, Henry's brother, became farm manager for the Peppers at Abington.

To the end of her days in 1976, Mrs Brett spoke fondly of Mr and Mrs Pepper.

Mrs Long remembered the Peppers as a child at the farm. She lived at No 1, Manor Farm cottages.

Mr Pepper was very generous, and his yearly 'Horkey' - a party for his employees to celebrate the end of the harvest - was filled with excellent food, drink and jollity. The 'Horkey' was always discussed for weeks following.

The Peppers also invited their farm labourers and their families to the yearly firework display in the Manor Farmhouse garden. Mrs Long remembered her first display: 'They let a firework off, and I was terrified. Never seen anything like that before, and I was only a tot!'

Mrs Pepper took the child by the hand and led her into the 'very grand' farmhouse. 'We went into a marvellous room, with a bay window overlooking the lawn where the firework display was.' 

And there the two watched the fireworks.

'I felt safe indoors and enjoyed watching the fireworks go off then!' said Mrs Long.

'Me and my friend, Lily Brett, were allowed to play in the Manor Farmhouse garden. They had a little brick summer house there with a big rocking horse inside and a fireplace for cooler days. We used to drag a garden seat in there to "furnish" it, light a fire and cook potatoes in the hot cinders after. We always enjoyed them - though whether they were properly cooked or not is a another matter!'

Other children of the farm labourers also played in the Peppers' garden, and, on really cold days, all were allowed to play in one of the attic rooms in the house.

Cambridgeshire Petty Sessions, 1908: Richard Pepper was charged with having an 'uncontrolled dog' on Arbury Road. His offer of whiskey and soda to the police constable who called at the Manor Farmhouse regarding the matter was (quite rightly) refused. In light of Mr Peppers's highly benevolent attitude to his labourers, their wives and families, this seems typical of what might later have been termed a 'laidback' attitude!

In 1912, the Peppers, having endured financial problems, emigrated to Australia.

Their tenure at Manor Farm had been short - ended by the sale of the farm in 1909. However, the impression they made on some of their employees, and the warmth of the memories of those employees many decades later, was striking. 

Of all the tenants of the Manor Farmhouse, we were left with the strongest impression of Mr and Mrs Pepper when it came to character. They were within the memory of several of the original interviewees - concrete evidence of the value of oral history.


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