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 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.


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


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

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

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 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. 'Cambridge Weekly News', 1982. 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

Manor School Memories Part 1

The Manor School on Arbury Road was one of the main focuses of life for North and South Arbury for decades. With its evening classes and youth centre, and various community activities - like the annual Christmas party for the elderly and the annual school play in the 1980s ( Annie Get Your Gun and Dracula Spectacular spring to mind) - the Manor opened as separate boys' and girls' schools in 1959 (the girls had to share the boys' buildings at first as their own were still under construction). The school later became co-ed.      An aerial view of t he Manor Schools - Boys' and Girls', around 1960, with a section of Arbury Road and Arbury Court. Note Arbury Court was yet to gain its library and large supermarket building, and Campkin Road was still the Manor Farm Drive. The side of the Manor School 'new block', built in the early 1970s, the tower block and boys' gym beyond. The school was built in the Park Meadow of the old Manor Farm - which is how the &

Arbury Court - Part Of The 'Centre' Of The Original Arbury Estate...

A view across Arbury Court, looking towards Arbury Road, in 1976. Arbury Court is part of the 'centre' of the original Arbury Estate in Cambridge. The Court, with its pub, supermarket, hardware store and post office, chip shop, newsagent, TV shop, greengrocer, hairdresser, chemist, supermarket and branch library, is part of the 'hub' of the estate. The historic Arbury district. The Arbury or Harborough (the names were variations on each other and interchangeable) Meadows covered most of the land north of Arbury Road. The road ran from Milton Road to the Histon/Cambridge Road until the late 1970s. The Manor Farm was formed in the years following the 1840 Chesterton Enclosures. Orchard Park (originally Arbury Park and, before that, Arbury Camp Farm) features the outline of part of the Arbury prehistoric settlement at Ring Fort Road. We've inserted the sites of Arbury Court, the Guided Busway and Campkin Road. Arbury Road marks the boundary of North and South Arbury, a

Arbury Archaeology and History: Part 1

Imagine an iron age settlement. It is surrounded by a circular earthwork. People live here. There are houses, and pens for animals within the enclosure. Until recent years, it was not believed to be a fort. The settlement is larger than some, but believed to be very much the equivalent of what we now call a village - the earthwork simply to defend it from wolves and animal thieves. The earthwork is filled with water, and reeds and rushes grow there. Despite the naming of the Arbury earthwork as 'Ring Fort Road' in the Arbury Camp Farm Arbury/Orchard Park development, the original height of the earthwork and its enclosed area were not believed to indicate that Arbury was a fort (compare to Wandlebury), and the findings of archaeologists from Cambridge and London from the early 1960s to 1970 discounted the notion. Comment from Arbury Camp, Cambridge, A Preliminary Report on Excavations - by John Alexander and David Trump, 1970: The excavations therefore tend to confirm earlier s

Ask Arbury: The Roman Villa in Arbury

     E-mail to Arbury Cambridge blog: Was a Roman villa found at King's Hedges? I recently saw an outside display in North Arbury/King's Hedges Ward called 'The Roman Landscape in King's Hedges' which claims there was one. And is King's Hedges Road Roman?  We've seen that display. Electoral wards are not historic areas and local historians really do need to be mindful of that fact. The answer to your questions regarding the Roman villa and King's Hedges Road is no. The Roman villa was found on the site of King's Hedges School, which is not part of the historic King's Hedges acres. Historically, King's Hedges was simply a named property, a farm, of fifty eight acres, and is now north of the guided busway. It was never a district. King's Hedges School is dearly loved by many of us and we treasure it, but those in the know accept it's not actually in any historically meaningful King's Hedges district, and the site it was built on ha

Manor School Memories - Part 2

Lads from the Manor Boys' School in 1960. D. Claton, M. Farrow, R. Mitchell, C. Peck, I. Skeels, R. Potter and G. Paine are present. Do any readers remember who is who? School's back in - Manor School/Community College on Arbury Road that is (now North Cambridge Academy). Here is the second part of our series on Manor Memories - Part 1 is here . Pupils' foreign holiday, 1960: the first Manor girls to go on a joint foreign holiday with Manor boys: G. Anderson, J. Barnes, C. Blackwell, H. Brown, S. Budd, L. Carter, A. Clarke, L. Doggett, C. Doughty, P. Drake, S. Hardy, E. Harradine, B. Kaspar, D. Miller, J. Parker, L. Phillips, J. Reeves, J. Spencer, J. Symonds, with headmistress Mrs Firman. Note the Manor Schools' caretaker's house can be seen in the background, and the trees of the old Manor Farm orchard. October 1960, and here is a view of the Manor Boys' and Girls' schools from the car park at the Snow Cat public house (now the Cambridge Gurdwara). A view

What Arbury Means To You...

We thought it would be good to invite comments (or emails - from readers about what Arbury means to you. Of course, many have already made their views plain on here, but we like the idea of a dedicated blog post. Please be aware that we are referring to the original Arbury area here, the area between Gilbert Road and King's Hedges Road, not modern electoral wards/misnamed apparently 'separate' housing estates. From 'Arbury is Where We Live!' (1981): Community action has always been important in Arbury. The first Arbury community groups were formed with the building of South Arbury in the 1950s, and North Arbury has seen many fantastic community efforts - resulting in the likes of the Arbury Adventure Playground, Arbury Carnival, Arbury Community Centre and the Arbury Town Park. So, what does Arbury mean to YOU? How long have you lived here? Are you interested in Arbury history? What do you like about Arbury? What do you dislike? What mak

Arbury Snippets Part 4: Arbury Terrace, Arbury Hedges, 19th Century Pugilists, Hunting & Escaped Prisoners At The Real King's Hedges And Suspects On The Arbury Meadows...

We've superimposed the old Arbury Meadows, Furlongs and Corner onto a 1900 map. Remember, the Manor Farm, which covered most of North Arbury (or the Council's inappropriately named 'King's Hedges Ward'), did not exist before the 1840s. Our 1900 map also features the details from the 1840 enclosures map. The names Arbury and Harborough were variations on each other and interchangeable. Whilst the 1840 enclosures map used the 'Harborough' form, an 1839 newspaper article (featured) used the 'Arbury' form. During the late 1800s, the 'Harborough' form all but disappeared. The Arbury name is derived from the Old English for 'earthwork', the earthwork surrounding the iron age settlement at Arbury Camp Farm (now Orchard Park, originally Arbury Park). The earthwork, or at least part of it, was a landscape feature for around 2000 years, and the part of the outline seen on this map is incorporated into the design of Ring Fort Road. Arbury was. f