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1986: Mrs Wiles Remembers Old Arbury and Chesterton - Part 2

A postcard from Miss Mabel Brett of the Manor Farm, Arbury Road, Cambridge, to her sister, Mrs Louisa Ashman at 7, Turf Terrace, Newmarket. Alfred Brett, their brother, had joined the Territorial Army and Mabel notes: 'I have put an X against Alf'. The card, postmarked 25 August, 1913, reads: 

Dear Sister, Received letter quite safe. Hope you are all well as it leaves us all the same. You can expect Alf and me over to day [sic] week, weather permitting. Dad has got his corn up. Arthur is having his Holiday this week. Mother, Arthur and Lil went to Felixstowe last Wednesday. Quite swanko.
 
Love from sister Mabel. Will tell you more when I see you. xxxx

Note, that although most of the stamp has been removed, it is tilted in the then fashionable way to indicate a kiss. And 'swanko'? That meant 'posh', 'showy'.

Part two of Mrs Wiles's memories of an Arbury and Chesterton childhood from 1986.

'I remember sitting in the big kitchen at Manor Farm with Gran one sunny afternoon and... well... to tell the truth I was finding it a bit quiet! I loved being at the farm, but when my cousins weren't there and everybody was out at work it could be a bit too quiet for a kiddie.

"Wouldn't it be nice if there were some shops, Gran?" I said.

'Well, Gran joined in the game, and asked where we should put them? We thought in the field opposite the Park would be nice. Then I said: "Well, we'll need a church for you," - because it was a long way to Chesterton High Street.'

Amelia Brett attended the Wesley Chapel there,

'"Oh yes!' said Gran. So we put the church in the field beside the shops, opposite the farm Drive.

'"And what about a school for you?" said Gran. Well, we thought about that and decided the Park field beside Gran's house would be nice. Of course, years later, when they's built the Arbury Estate, I thought how strange it was that me and Gran had planned the positions of Arbury Court, the Good Shepherd Church and the Manor School all those years before - all on that sunny afternoon when such a thing was unimaginable in reality!'

The Church of the Good Shepherd, the Manor School and Arbury Court in the mid-1960s - the positions all plotted at the Manor Farm by Mrs Amelia Brett and Miss Muriel Ashman, around 1919.

The ancient history of Arbury did not escape the attention of the youngsters.

'Arbury Camp was in the field at the top of Arbury Road, where it met Histon Road. This is long before that terrible new road and the motorway, of course. Cars rule everything these days! I remember when my mother was ill and I took her out in her wheelchair [from Springfield Terrace]. This is... well, the early '60s I'm talking about, and we'd be waiting to cross Milton Road opposite the school for ages. The cars kept coming, and Mum would say: "Come on, you brutes!"'

Mrs Wiles laughed and was quick to explain: 'She wasn't talking to the drivers, of course. Just the cars!

'Of course, [cousin] Grace thought that Arbury Camp had been an ancient camp site - and I wondered. I pictured all these tents there with ancient people living in them! There were two fields at Manor Farm called 'Arbury', too. My Uncle Frank said that when he was a little boy men had been up at Arbury Camp digging for ancient remains.

Our trusty old map from around 1900, showing the Arbury landscape. The field names have been filled in via the farm's 1909 sale documents.

'There was a bit of a rumour that Arbury Road was haunted. Now, I didn't really believe it, but I remember once being at the farm one night. There was a fog and I went outside and everything was what they call "shrouded" in fog, all the trees and fields, and my imagination went on overtime and I imagined all these Romans and whatnot marching about!'

Frank Brett had had fun with the 'haunted' rumour when he was a child. 

'In those days, young women used to cycle along Arbury Meadow Road to the Histon Road to get to Chivers, where they worked, and then cycle back in the evenings. Well, one dark night, Uncle Frank and his pals took a pumpkin, carved a scary face in it, stuck it on the end of a stick, draped that in a sheet, and stuck a length of candle inside the head. Then they lit the candle and hid behind the hedgerow.

'When the young women from Chivers cycled past, they bobbed the scary face up and down. Well, the women screamed, and their bikes wobbled, and they pedalled as fast as they could. I think some of them knew it was kiddies being mischievous and played along with them to give them a bit of fun, but Uncle Frank said some of them believed it and said "Arbury Road is haunted - sure as sure!"'

Mrs Wiles at home in Springfield Terrace in 1986. She is pictured with one of her gas lamps. The house had had electricity for years, but Mrs Wiles retained the gas lamps because they were useful during power cuts. She always had them safety-checked by the gas board once a year, and kept a box of gas mantels handy! Her house had no bathroom and an outside WC.

'Grace and I were mischievous too. We'd shin up one of the big old trees in the farm Drive and drop things down on passers by and make weird noises!

'I was interested in history, and I asked Uncle Frank how the Castle mound came about? "Well," he said, "years ago the Romans came all across this land, building roads. They were camped where the mound is now, and every night they would go back and scrape the mud off their boots with a spade. That built up and up into the Castle mound!" I believed him for quite a while! Uncle Frank was great fun, He could always tell a tale like that with a straight face!'

The farm children made their own amusement in the days of Louisa Ashman, née Brett, and her, daughter, Mrs Wiles.

'When my mother was small, she and the other children used to go up to the railway tracks to do a trick they called "The Scissor Trick". In those days, the railway tracks ran across the fields, and King's Hedges Road was just a short, narrow farm track from Chesterton to King's Hedges - on the other side of the railway tracks from Manor Farm. It was a private road, like the Drive through Manor Farm. It was usually pretty quiet up there, and Mum and her brothers and sisters would go and put two pins down on the railway line, criss-crossed. They'd wait for a train to pass and then retrieve them, soldered together in a scissor shape!'

Mrs Wiles's grandfather, Richard Brett, was renowned for being able to forecast the weather.

'If you went out, he might say, "Take an umbrella, it's going to rain!" You might think it looked lovely, and the idea of rain was silly, but, sure enough, if you ignored him, you regretted it!

'Uncle Frank [Richard's youngest son] spent hours lying in the fields at Manor Farm, watching the clouds in the sky and trying to work out how to predict weather. Grandad called the clouds things like "hen's scratchings" and "frilly tails", some funny names like that. I don't know if Uncle Frank was ever as good at it as Grandad! With Grandad, it always seemed magical to me!

'I remember we had a day of real high winds once, and the next day the fields along Arbury Road were dotted with hats and hat pins - all flown from the heads of the young women cycling home from Chivers!'

Part three of Mrs Wiles's memories is here.

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  1. This is lovely to read. Thanks for archiving all this Arbury stuff. It's priceless.

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