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Mrs Hinchcliffe's Memories of Old Arbury, Chesterton and Vicarage Terrace - Part 6

From the Arbury Archive, contributed in the late 1980s, the sixth part of Mrs Grace Hinchcliffe's memories. Mrs Hinchcliffe (1910-1998) was Andy's grandmother. Her fund of memories of Arbury & Chesterton Past, transcribed from the original interviews, make fascinating reading. This week, we enter the turbulent summer of 1921...

'When I started at Milton Road School my parents paid... I think it was sixpence a week for me to go. While I was there, the fee was cut out. Now, you might think Mum and Dad would be pleased. Mum wasn't. I didn't understand it properly, but she said standards would drop and this was charity and all sorts of things. She was disgusted and got quite het up about it.

'So, it was decided I'd go to a private school. Dad went along with it - he idolised me. But some of my aunts looked at me funny and when I went over to Arbury, Grandma Brett said: "Well! Aren't you a posh girl now?!" Nobody in the family had ever been to private school before and some of them thought it was strange. Even Muriel was taken back by it.

'Anyway, the school I went to was called Bitterne House, and it was in Victoria Road. It was a tiny school, very cosy, and definitely posher than Milton Road, but it wasn't really snobbish or anything like that. It was mixed - boys and girls.

'Miss Fish was the headmistress, and she was lovely. She lived in Magrath Avenue. There weren't many children there - it was about eleven - and we used to have our playtimes in the back garden. It was very cosy.

'Miss Bales gave most of the lessons, and Miss Carol taught music, part time. I loved playing the piano and I got a certificate and played at the Guildhall in Cambridge when I was about seven or so - Advance Guards, Quick March!'

Victoria Road in the 1920s. Bitterne House is the flat-fronted building on the left.

'After school, I'd be back with cousin Muriel, of course. We were still the "Two Inseparables".

'Then Miss Fish got ill and Bitterne House closed down. It was terrible, Miss Fish had cancer and she died. She was a lovely person and we were very upset. 

'Miss Bales started another school, on the De Freville Estate, and taught ballet, and Mum made ballet dresses for her pupils. Mum loved dressmaking and she'd built up quite a good little business. She'd sit up all night, working away at her Singer sewing machine to get a garment finished if need be.

'Out on the Arbury, things were changing. Grandma Brett wasn't as well as she had been, she was in bed a lot - TB, as it turned out - and Mr Camps died around this time so Grandad had to get other work. He was horse keeper at the sewage farm on Milton Road for years, and still kept up his own ground at Manor Farm and the pigs and goats and everything.

'We had a really strange summer in 1921. I'd decided to write a diary a few months before - well, it was a little notebook thing really. I was ten at the time, and I got bored writing it, so I stopped. Then Mum became ill and we went to stay in Portsmouth. It was lovely, and I started the diary up again. Dad had got Grandad Brett and Uncle Frank to look after his land on Arbury for a few days, but then he had to get back. He took me with him as Mum needed a rest. Mum didn't think so, but she never did! She was always on the go, didn't like sitting about.

'It was hot, really hot - terrible really. When we got back to Cambridge, I stayed at Arbury with Grandma and Grandad Brett, with Aunt Lou in Springfield Terrace, and with Grandma and Grandad Prevett in Vicarage Terrace. It was a busy time of year for Dad, he'd be out really early in the mornings and back home when it got dark very often, but on Sundays I'd go home as that was his Day of Rest. We'd go over to Arbury to feed the horse and the chickens and ducks and everything, but the rest of the day we'd spend together, playing games or going for walks. I was a real Daddy's Girl.

A postcard from Portsmouth to Mrs Wiles (then aged ten) at Springfield Terrace, dated 20 July 1921. This was from her Aunt Lydia, wife of Harry [Henry] Brett and mother of Grace. Lydia had gone to work for Mr and Mrs Pepper at Manor Farm as a young woman, and Mrs Pepper had bestowed on her the name 'Annie' (names like Lydia were often not deemed 'appropriate' for servants by their mistresses) and this name rather stuck. Mrs Wiles always spoke of her as 'Aunt Annie'. Note the tilted stamp denoted an extra kiss to go with the x's. The family did not use phrases like 'most ripping' or 'simply lovely' in speech!

Dear Muriel,

Just a card to say I am having  a most ripping time. It is simply lovely here. I've been in the sea to bathe in a bathing costume. Has Uncle Harry shown you the photo of us in the sea? It was great fun. Have you seen Grace? I have not had a line yet from Uncle Harry. 

Fond love to all, Auntie Lydia x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

'Well, that summer!' said Mrs Hinchcliffe. 'There was all this talk of a drought all round the world, and we had fires breaking out. One night, at Vicarage Terrace, I was in bed when I was woken up by voices outside. "Whatever is it? What can it be?" they were saying. Well, of course, I had to find out what was going on, and I went outside. Grandma and Grandad, Aunt Sue, and some of the neighbours were standing out there, and there was this glow in the sky in the distance, over Chesterton way.

'It turned out the Scientific Instrument Works - we always called that "The Scientific" - in Chesterton Road had had a flare up. Then, we had a fire in Arbury - at the field labs - "The Experiment Farm" as we called it. The University had built that on part of the Manor Farm land. Well, there was a right old panic because it might have set crops or sheds and stables alight. Dad's land was right near there so he was out helping the fireman and making sure the livestock wasn't panicked. Well... I thought what a funny old time it was, what with the heat and the fires and Mum being away... I was writing it all down in my diary

'My birthday was coming up - I was going to be eleven. Imagine that - I was all excited! And then Miss Lawn got murdered. Now, I know, looking back, a lot of us think things were better in those days. And they were when it came to crime. But we weren't living in some sort of... well... paradise. Things did happen. I remember, some years later, when I had kiddies of my own, a woman stabbing a baby parked in its pram outside Joshua Taylor's in town. I go cold to think of that. All sorts of things went on - like now, but less of it. Of course, when I was a kiddie, you didn't hear so much - we didn't have the wireless or the telly or anything. We got the paper and that was it.

'Miss Lawn's murder was a big thing in Cambridge. And it really hit us because we always went to her shop when I went to the Mart with Dad - we knew her...'

Part 7 is here.


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