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Mrs Hinchcliffe's Memories of Old Arbury, Chesterton & Vicarage Terrace - Part 9

The ninth part of the memories of Mrs Grace Hinchcliffe (1910-1998), contributed to the Arbury Archive in the 1980s. Mrs Hinchcliffe was Andy's grandmother and this is very much an insider's view of life in rural Arbury and Chesterton (with occasional insights into life in Vicarage Terrace) in the 1910s and 1920s.

'Aunt May had worked at Luke Eyres' [pronounced Eye-ers] knitting factory on the corner of Hale Street and always been bustling about. I remember when I stayed nights at the farm her getting on her bike to go to work in the morning - she never seemed tired. She was always on the go, but she gradually got worse and worse with the Sleeping Sickness. And Grandma went downhill and they weren't good times. 

'Grandma and Grandad Brett's house at Arbury was very quiet with the illnesses going on there. I think Aunt May was frustrated as she was able to do less and less. She was becoming paralysed, slow but sure. It was awful.

'Aunt May had wanted a home of her own for her and Uncle Frank, and Grandma fancied the idea of a move so they all went in together and bought No 1 Arbury Road, up near Milton Road. Looking back, I know Grandad didn't really want to leave, but he did want Grandma and Aunt May to be happy, and I don't think Grandma really wanted to leave either, though she said she did. I think she was doing it for Aunt May because it was all so sad and this was Aunt May's wish.

The house had a lovely bay window and it was a nice house but I didn't like it because I missed Manor Farm and Grandma and Aunt May were ill. I mean, I still went over Manor Farm, to Dad's land, but Grandad and Grandma Brett's house had a lot of happy memories in it for me and I didn't like them leaving it.

'I went to Manor Farm and shinned up a tree in the Drive. I hadn't done that since I was a kiddie and I didn't want anybody to see me because I didn't consider it ladylike! But there was nobody about in the Drive and I looked out over the Arbury fields... all the plots with the men working, all the sheds and pig sties and orchards and the watercourse... it was a great big chopped up apron of land right up to the Arbury and Histon Roads and the railway tracks and I got a bit upset about it all. That was silly really because it was all just up the road from our house in Milton Road, we weren't leaving the area, and Dad was still farming his holding there.

'But I mooned about a bit then went to see Dad on his holding and felt better.

'Grandma died not long after the move to No 1. Or at least it doesn't seem long looking back. As I said before, I knew a fair bit about funerals because I'd been to Uncle Fred's when I was a little girl and the memory has never left me... terrible... 

'I bought a wreath for Grandma myself, on my own, because I wanted to make my own gesture to her. It was the least I could do for all the love she'd given me.

'When I started work at Pye's, the building I was in backed onto St Andrew's Churchyard, and if I looked out of the windows at the back I could see Grandma's grave. It seemed sad, but also it gave me a sense of... life going on, generations... At first, it upset me to talk about Grandma - I got, well, choked up. But in time I talked about her and all the lovely memories and they made me happy. I look back on the time at Arbury now, and Grandad and Grandma Brett, as a golden era.

Account of Amelia Brett's funeral from the 'Cambridge Daily News', September, 1924.

'Me and Muriel were very interested in babies and loved them. I remember when I was little I had a great big doll called "Peggy". I loved her - she was my baby. But when one of my aunts and uncles visited they used to get hold of her, jeer and chuck her across to each other. They did it to tease and it really upset me, though they didn't mean anything by it. They just weren't sensitive. In the end, I got wise and hid Peggy away whenever they were due to visit!

'When we were about fifteen, me and Muriel were looking after real babies, because Mrs Bound, who lived at the mill on Milton Road and was a friend of Mum's, and Mrs Ankin, who lived next door to Muriel [in Springfield Terrace] let us take their babies out in their prams. Mine was a little boy and I can't remember his name for the life of me! Muriel's, I think, was called Evie, well, Evelyn really, I suppose, and we used to take them out and walk along with them, very grown-up.

'I remember we took them over to Arbury once, to Manor Farm, and we saw Mrs Challis, who lived in one of the end cottages, and she said: "I can hardly credit it! It doesn't seem five minutes since you were in your prams!"

'One day we went over the waterfall bridge at Jesus Locks and we were wheeling the prams by the river. I was nattering away, and not concentrating, and I wheeled the pram slightly onto the bank off the path and it tilted, fell over, and the baby came tumbling out and rolled down the bank. 

'I was petrified! It was said that the Cam there was bottomless and I was just absolutely... frozen with horror. But the baby stopped rolling before the water's edge and I ran down and got him and he was just... ordinary... he wasn't crying or anything... not upset at all. I was - I was shaking like a leaf!

'I must've been a bit nervy because I got the wind up when I went for a job at Pye's as well, and went galloping off home. Muriel got the job instead and my mum was very annoyed! But I nerved myself and went for another job there - this time Mum came with me - and I got it - and it was a bit more money than the last job I chickened out of.

'I was on winding transformers at thru'pence an hour. Muriel was ironing up at tuppence ha’penny - a ha'penny less! I worked an eight-and-a-half hour day. The entrance to Pye's was on Cam Road - nearly opposite the Fleur De Lys pub. There wasn’t so much at Pye’s then - just a machine shop, winding and ironing shop and offices.'

Mrs Hinchcliffe and her cousin Muriel were not working together, and she soon made some new friends. 

'There was Ivy Hurst, from Bradmore Street, Kath Phillips from Riverside and Evelyn Hessey. She lived near the Fitzwilliam Museum. We sat at two benches just inside the doorway. We got on like a house on fire and everybody called us "The Society Four"!

'They didn’t encourage a lot of talking there, but we still managed quite a bit - what houses and husbands we’d have, that sort of thing. I always remember once, we were talking about furnishings and I said, "I’m going to have a dive-an". Of course, I meant a divan - I’d pronounced it wrong! I think I’d only seen it written… They laughed their heads off and I wished the ground would open and swallow me up! You don’t want to look silly in front of your friends - especially at that age!'

The glories of a divan as described and pictured in 'Our Home Corner', 'Cambridge Chronicle & University Journal', 1926.

On one occasion the talking went too far:

'I remember this girl, Cecilia Pearson, she sat behind me. Well, she spilt some messy stuff on her silk blouse - stuff she was working with, you know. I was most concerned and kept turning round to see if she’d managed to get it out. It was just my luck - Mr Robinson, the manager came up. "Haven’t you got any work to do?" "Yes, Sir!" 

'A few minutes later, I turned round to Cecilia again. "How are you getting on? Have you got it out yet?" Well, this time Mr Nunn, the foreman, nabbed me. Mr Robinson must’ve had words with him, because he said, "Go on home. I’ve got in trouble about you once already today. Don’t come back till Monday!" I lost two days’ pay!'

Part 10 coming soon...


  1. I had no idea about the Arbury Archive though I have heard of the Arbury Is Where We Live book. Excellent work here with all the insights of old Arbury life and Chesterton too. I hope you will continue.

    1. Thank you! Lots more to come. If anybody wants to help, we welcome new Arbury Archivists - Arbury-ites, ex-Arbury-ites and anybody else interested in contributing to the work. We are a small but dedicated band and have lots of enthusiasm for the work. It's an area of Cambridge with a history which stretches back into prehistory, but it seems to be negated (rather snobbishly, we feel), chopped up into synthetic and utterly fake areas and generally disregarded. We're glad you're enjoying the site.


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