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1986: Mrs Wiles Remembers Old Arbury and Chesterton... Part 1

Mrs Wiles at home in Springfield Terrace in 1986. The curtain to the left prevented draughts from the stairs door. The stairs ran up through the middle of the house. Andy remembers very well a wall over the stairs on which you could easily bang your head if you didn't remember it was there. 'I saw stars on those stairs many times!' he says.

Mrs Muriel Wiles, née Ashman, is a fondly remembered family member to Andy. By the early 1980s, her family consisted entirely of cousins - first, second, third, fourth - as she'd never had children of her own. She had married late in life, and her husband had died suddenly after only three years of marriage.

It must be said, that in the Brett family and its various branches, modern sociological notions of 'nuclear' and 'extended' family were totally unknown. Family was family, people related to you by blood, adoption or marriage, and this was the case well into Andy's life time. 

'Extended family was close friends who were considered almost family,' he says, 'not actual relatives.'

Andy spent a lot of time with Mrs Wiles, and when she simply introduced him as her cousin to friends and acquaintances, he never thought it strange. He was her cousin - a first cousin twice removed, or third cousin, whichever way you looked at it, and cousins were all the family Mrs Ashman had after the deaths of her parents and aunts and uncles. She was a cherished family member to those who knew her.

In the early 1980s, Andy brought the (then) new Arbury Archive to Mrs Wiles. She had a fantastic memory, was able to recount small details of long ago sunny or rainy afternoons at the Manor Farm on Arbury Road, or in Springfield Terrace, in what was then New Chesterton, where she lived, details of people and routine - so much detail the past seemed to live again. Her excellent memory was a trait shared by her cousins, Mrs Hinchcliffe and Mr Jones, and the Arbury Archive benefited tremendously.

Andy already knew many of the things Mrs Wiles told him for the Arbury Archive interviews, but there was no hint of a contrived situation when the interviews took place. Mrs Wiles enjoyed talking about her memories, and, each time, Andy enjoyed them afresh. He built up over one hundred pages from the interviews, which both were very happy about.

'Imagine me, being interviewed!' said Mrs Wiles.

Richard and Amelia Brett, Mrs Wiles's maternal grandparents, with their dog Nell, in the Park meadow at the Manor Farm in Arbury Road, around 1914. Even today, Andy could take you to the very spot where the photograph was taken! Richard and Amelia were married on 19 October, 1880, at St Andrew's Church, Impington.

Mrs Wiles had become very interested in Arbury history at the time the original estate was being built. She had actually jotted down some of her mother's thoughts and memories on the subject, and this has also been added to the Archive.

Today, we begin her story. While Arbury is the central focus, Mrs Wiles's memories of Springfield Terrace, Chesterton, etc, will, hopefully, be of interest too.

Mrs Muriel Wiles, née Ashman, was born in Newmarket in 1909.

'Mum and Dad moved out there after they got married,' said Mrs Wiles. 'We lived at No 7, Turf Terrace. Mum always spent a lot of time at Manor Farm visiting her parents with me. She loved being with her parents and chatting with her brothers and sisters. They didn't all live at home then, but they'd pop in. Of course, me being little, they all made a great fuss of me - so I loved it too!

'Sometimes Dad would be waiting at Newmarket Station for us to get back after he'd finished work in the evening, and there would be no sign. Mum would've decided to stay over at Manor Farm.

'Mum liked Newmarket and thought she might settle there, but somehow... well... she never did.

'In the end, Dad asked Mum if she'd like to move back to Cambridge and she said yes. I was about seven. So Dad saw into it, about work and everything, and we got a little terraced house opposite Milton Road School. That was my new school. But we weren't in that house very long, less than a year, I think, before we moved into Springfield Terrace. The house we first lived in is less than a minute's walk away.

'The Terrace was always going to be temporary. We were going to get a bigger, better house with a bigger garden. We talked about it a lot, it was going to be lovely!'

And then Mrs Wiles laughed. She was speaking in 1986 - and was still living there!

'I suppose it's worked out all right,' she said. 'I had a dream once where I didn't live here and I passed the front door and couldn't come in. I didn't like that at all!'

Mrs Wiles lived in the house until her death in August 1987.

Mrs Louisa Ashman with her daughter, Muriel, in their back garden at No 2, Springfield Terrace, in about 1917.

Mrs Wiles's father, Thomas Walter Ashman (known as Walter) was born in 1881 at Wood Ditton, Cambridgeshire. 

'Dad was a very hard working and very clever man,' said Mrs Wiles. 'He was a craftsman - building, woodwork, gardening, he could turn his hand to anything. And he really cared about his work, made things to last. I remember once Dad did a job at the big old house on Milton Road next to us [in Springfield Terrace]. He bought one of the inside doors and made it into a front door for us. Now, he passed away over thirty years ago [in 1986] and that door is the one I still have - and it's still perfect! I used to love watching him at work. When I was about ten, he made me my own hammer and I was thrilled to bits!'

The old interior door from Springfield, the 'big old house' on Milton Road, served as a front door at No 2, Springfield Terrace, until the early 21st Century.

'Mum had been in service. There wasn't much choice about jobs then, not for men or women. She became a cook and was very pleased about that because it had been her ambition from the start.'

Mrs Wiles's mother, Louisa Brett, was born at King's Hedges in 1884. By 'King's Hedges', we don't mean North Arbury, 'King's Hedges Estate' or 'King's Hedges Ward', but the original, historic King's Hedges - see map below.

'Mum's parents, Grandad and Grandma Brett, moved from Histon to King's Hedges,' said Mrs Wiles. 'That was a little farm just north of the railway tracks near Histon and Impington. They already had two children, Uncle Arthur and Auntie Lizzie. Mum was born at King's Hedges, and so was Uncle Harry [Henry]. There were two little semi-detached cottages there. Then they moved into Arbury, to Manor Farm. Mum didn't remember living at King's Hedges. They moved to Arbury when she was a tot. 

The Brett family lived briefly at King's Hedges, then a strictly defined plot of fifty eight acres north of the guided busway, before moving to the Manor Farm on Arbury Road in 1886.

'At Manor Farm, they lived opposite what is now the Arbury Town Park. One end of their house faced that, but it was just a field then. There used to be a track through the farm we called the "Drive", and they made that into Campkin Road when they built the Arbury. Grandad and Grandma's house was one side of the Drive. The house has gone now of course. Arbury Town Park is now the other side of the road.

'Gran and Grandad had quite a big house and it was detached. I think Grandad was horse keeper at the farm at first, and that might be why he got the house, because he had a very responsible job. He was wonderful with horses and really cared about them. There was a small front garden, and Gran grew Rose of Sharon under the two windows there because it was her favourite flower. 

'The house was what was called "double fronted" because the side faced the Drive and the front a track down by the garden of the great big house next door.

'When you went in the front door to the hall, there were the stairs in front of you on the right, and two rooms, one either side. One of them Gran used as a parlour and they called it the "Best Room", and the other was... well... a sort of store room, with all sorts of old furniture and bric-a-brac in it. They were both good-sized rooms. At the end of the hall was the kitchen door, and I always seem to think there were two steps down into it. I might not remember right... but somehow I always see these two steps down when it comes into my head.

The Bretts' house at Manor Farm, as seen from the Park pasture land beside it (see map) - later the site of the Manor Community College and the North Cambridge Academy. The farm's 1909 sales particulars refer to it as the 'Foreman's house'. Chimneys of the Manor Farmhouse next door, home of the tenant farmer, can also be seen to the left of the photograph. The Manor Farmhouse was often referred to locally as 'The Manor House'.

'There was a little cupboard under the stairs, and I got myself trapped in there once and got in a panic. I went in, I was only a little girl, and the door clicked shut behind me. I was shrieking, "GRAN! GRAN!' all shut in in the dark. It was horrible. Imagine that - I just used to plunge in exploring then, never any thought of danger!

'They had a lovely grandfather clock in the hall with a very loud tick tock. It was a lovely sound, very soothing.

'Gran's kitchen was very big. It was all whitewashed brick. She had a great big range she did all her cooking on, but she couldn't bake bread in it. That was to do with the temperature. She'd make the dough and it was always taken down to the baker in Chesterton to be baked.

'On either side of the range were two big wooden armchairs, padded with cushions, where Gran and Grandad used to sit in the evenings. They only used the "Best Room" for special occasions and on Sundays.

'There was a big brown stone kitchen sink, with a pump to get the water up. Well, of course, they had no gas or electric. The sink was over to the left as you went in, and on the right was a big walk-in pantry.

Mrs Wiles's plan of Amelia Brett's Manor Farm kitchen, with annotations by Andy. The note about 'cos lettuce dipped in vinegar and brown sugar' refers to a favourite meal of Frank Brett - displaying an early preference for a sweet and sour flavour!

'The toilet was a brick building outside and was called the "privy". We always called toilets '"privies" when I was a kiddie. There were two seats, a low one for us kiddies and a higher one for grown-ups. In Gran and Grandad's privy were pictures of the royal family, cut out from newspapers and magazines. That always seemed really funny to me! Gran used to make toilet paper from old newspapers. She'd cut it into neat squares and thread it on a piece of string to hang in the privy.

'Grandad had the job of emptying the privy once a week. He had to pull away the bit of metal at the back and drag out the container, then carry it. It went into a hole in the garden they called "The Mudgehole". That's where all the household rubbish went.

'Grandad had edged the back garden path with raised bricks, on their ends, slanted in a sort of... zig zag pattern. I remember Uncle Frank telling me there was a big range of farm buildings almost joined on to the house when he was a boy. The barns were so close to the house, he could hear the animals moving about inside from his bedroom. They were that close! When I was a kiddie, they'd gone and Grandad was using the ground to graze goats on.

'At the end of the garden, just outside, Grandad had a huge piggery. He used to sell pigs to Mr Rooke, the butcher, in Chesterton Road. I used to love dangling a piece of cabbage on a bit of string to tease them, but the grown ups were upset and told me what I was doing was cruel - which seemed funny because I'd never thought of a pig's feelings before!

"And then me and my cousin Grace used to pinch some of their supper! We used to take potatoes that were being boiled up in the outhouse copper for the pigs' supper. We used to peel them, sprinkle on a drop of salt, and they were delicious. A telling off came our way for that!

'Poor old pigs. I was outside on Chesterton Road with Auntie Lizzie once, she was outside Uncle Albert's shop, and Grandad had brought some pigs from the farm to Mr Rooke's shop. I heard the pigs squealing as they were herded down Trafalgar Road and into the yard at the back of the shop. Well, I was quite upset by it, and said to Auntie Lizzie, "Do you think they know they're going to be killed?" And Auntie Lizzie said, "Oh yes, they know all right!"

'Still, we had to eat, and Grandad always looked after his animals very well. Gran had some chickens, and they were kept just for their eggs as she couldn't bear to have one killed! The eggs were always said to be extra nice - maybe the chickens knew they had a safe billet and were saying thank you!

Mrs Elizabeth Jones (née Brett) with her son, Harry, outside the family's shop on Chesterton Road. Mrs Jones's husband, Albert, was a decorator and had the contract to paint Victoria Avenue Bridge and the railings by Midsummer Common and Jesus Green. Mrs Jones ran the family's retail outlet with Harry.

'Gran and Grandad had eleven children in all. After they moved to Arbury, they had... now, let's see... I'll put them in order: I think Uncle Charlie was the first, then Aunt Mabel, Aunt Maud, Uncle Alf, Aunt Cis, Uncle Frank and Aunt Lil.

'My Mum and Dad only had me. When I asked why, Mum said they did try for more children, but it just never seemed to happen.'

Mrs Wiles wasn't a lonely child though. She had her cousins, Grace Brett and Reg Jones.

Mrs Wiles was particularly close to Grace, who was a year younger than her, and they were nicknamed 'The Two Inseparables' by the family. Reg, also a year younger, was a sort of substitute brother figure, and the three would go out playing at Manor Farm together, often joined by Reg's friend, George Wright, who lived at the farm.

'In those days we were on the edge of the countryside here [in Springfield Terrace]. We used to open the windows in the summer and there was a lovely countryside smell coming in. I haven't smelt that here in a lot of years. Still, we were on the edge of the countryside then. We were very lucky.

'Gilbert Road was just a farm drift, with Milton Road School on the corner. My Dad had an allotment on the side where they built Chesterton School and Stretten Avenue later. I used to go up there and help him - and the wind whistling across there sounded just like trains!

'On the other side of the farm drift was Hall Farm - and that's where they built South Arbury all those years later. They started off with Carlton Way.

'I was grown-up by the time they built Gilbert Road, and me and Mum would walk down there, looking at the houses being built. Beautiful houses, as you know. We'd play a game, and choose which one we were going to have: "Look at this one, beautiful!'" - "Oh, so it is, but this one over here's perfect!" - "Oh it is - we'll have that one!" We did laugh - because we could never afford to buy a house, let alone one of those lovely places in Gilbert Road!'

A postcard Mrs Wiles received from her cousin, Grace Brett, who was holidaying in Guildford. The postmark is too faint to make out the year: 'To Miss M. Ashman, No 2 Springfield Terrace, Milton Road, Chesterton, Cambridge. 'Last Friday, Muriel, forgot to post it. Dear Muriel, I am just writing this to let you know I arrived just in time for dinner. This is all, love, Grace. Write to me. xxxxx'. Mrs Wiles explained that, as well as the x's, the tilted stamp also indicated a kiss: 'We always tilted the stamp like that when we wrote to close family!'

The second part of Mrs Wiles's memories is here.


  1. That was a lovely read and absolutely fascinating. How nice that some Chesterton history is also featured. It's amazing when one considers the income bracket of those living in the Springfield Terrace area then when compared to today!


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