Skip to main content

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 near 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.

Comments

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

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Main Streets of Arbury: Campkin Road - Part 1

Left: work begins on Campkin Road in 1961. Numbers 1 and 2 Manor Farm Cottages have been demolished, but the intention is to preserve the old trees lining the old Manor Farm Drive. Right: a similar view in more modern times, with the Arbury Town Park and Campkin Road. In 1982, Campkin Road was described as the 'Hauptstrasse of North Arbury' by local journalist Sara Payne. Ms Payne's   Down Your Street  local history articles in the   Cambridge Weekly News   were hugely popular and, for each one, Ms Payne visited a street in Cambridge and talked to the residents, collecting their memories for publication and producing a fascinating series of 'Then and Now' style articles. Down Your Street  followed in the footsteps of a similar series in the local press in the early 1960s - by Erica Dimmock - and both now make fascinating reading. We're starting our look at Campkin Road with material from the 'Arbury 1980' project and accounts from locals contributed to t

What Did The Romans Ever Do for Arbury? Jim Smith

Our trusty old Arbury map showing location details before the Manor Farm was established. The red line, inserted by Jim Smith, indicates the course of the Roman road - Akeman Street or the Mere Way. The land north of Arbury Road was the Arbury or Harborough Meadows, Arbury/Harborough furlongs and Arbury Camp, King's Hedges was in its original position, north of the railway (now guided busway) and Arbury Road ran from the Ely/Milton Road to the Histon/Cambridge Road - as it did until the late 1970s. Introduction - by the Arbury Archivists Jim Smith is a local history researcher and a good friend of the Arbury Cambridge Blog. He has been researching Roman finds in the historic Arbury area and has written this article for us. We are most grateful! He follows the adventures of those who scraped away centuries of soil to reveal ancient findings beneath.  Of course, as always, we deal with historic Arbury here, not council planners' estates or electoral wards, which are both prone to

Exploring The REAL King's Hedges...

The Cambridge and St Ives Branch railway line is now the Guided Busway. Where was King's Hedges historically? How did the name come about? Why is the majority of King's Hedges Road no more historic than late 1970s - and nothing to do with the course of the original road? What have council planners of the 1960s and 1970s and the needs of motorists got to do with the King's Hedges presence in the historic Arbury district? All will be revealed... We're going to leave Arbury briefly and go to King's Hedges. No, not King's Hedges Ward - that area is, in reality, one of the most Arbury of Arbury areas in Cambridge historically, but the REAL King's Hedges. North of the Guided Busway. You see, the land north of Arbury Road is the site of the Arbury Camp, the Arbury/Harborough (a variation on the Arbury name) Meadows and the Arbury fields of Manor Farm.  It has absolutely nothing to do with King's Hedges at all. And King's Hedges was never a district. Land no