My paternal Grandfather was Charles Saunders, who was born near Warboys in Huntingdonshire, which was then the second smallest county in England. Now it is the County of Cambridgeshire. This was probably in about 1870.
After his marriage to Sophia Annie Saunders they bought a farm at Wolvey, near Warboys. Their first born was my Father Charles Herbert Lionel Saunders, who was born in 1896.. He was educated at Wellingborough and moved during the First World War I believe, to Fenstanton where his Father farmed at the “Rookery” near Fenstanton Church.
After WW1 many Servicemen returned home, wounded, often gassed, and were given land to farm as Market gardens, this was called Land Settlement and land was presumably compulsorily purchased at below market value.
This hit my Grandfather very hard and in his words he was left with “cold clay” as he lost most of his best farming land, towards Fendrayton and was unable to make it pay. For a time they lived at “Oaklands”, a very large house with 15 bedrooms. He then moved to Northampton to open a Dairy.
My Father married in 1926 and continued to live in the village, in Church Street where I and my sister Jean were born. Both delivered by “Auntie Crouch” the village midwife, who although she had no formal training in Nursing or Midwifery she had a wealth of experience in bringing babies into the world and was greatly loved by many people in the village and highly respected by the local Doctor. She also laid out the bodies of the dead, where they were put into the parlour or front room until the funeral and thence burial, for there was no crematorium.
My Mother had live in maids and they would change clothes in the afternoons into brown dresses with lace collars and a little lace cap.
Lionel Saunders was rate collector and Parish Clerk also was company secretary at the Chicory factory in St. Ives. During WW1 he had served in the Royal Naval Air Service.
For a time we lived in the High Street until in 1935 my parents moved to Swan Lane to a new bungalow “Magnolia”. I believe the magnolia still blooms .
My Grandfather Charles Saunders was mentioned twice in a recent book on the village and my Father a few times.
Growing up in the 1930s
My parents, Lionel & Elsie Saunders
With Auntie Alice
With Jean & Connie CASH our live-in maid
I was truly blessed with a perfect and secure childhood, believing all children to be as I was.
We lived in the small village of Fenstanton, in the County of Huntingdonshire, now Cambridgeshire. On April 28th 1931, I was born ,in Church Street, in Fenstanton and my Birth was registered at St. Ives. My sister Jean was four years old and the village midwife “Auntie Crouch” delivered me as she did my sister, both at home. She had had no formal training in Nursing or Midwifery but a wealth of experience in bringing babies into the world and in ’’laying out “ the dead.
There were no twins in the village during those years and it was often said that where a poor family had more than one baby the village midwife used her own discretion as to whether to resuscitate. When a person died they would be put into a coffin in their front room or parlour, where it remained until the funeral, when it was taken to Church or Chapel and thence to the Churchyard.
Auntie Crouch was greatly loved by many in the village and she continued to look after us when my parents were away and on Saturday evenings when my parents went to Cambridge or Huntingdon, sometimes to a Tea Dance, then to the Cinema or to the Theatre.
There were many unmarried ladies in the village as so many men were killed in the first world war. I remember the two Misses Sandifer two Misses Munns, Mabel Hewson, Two Miss Hunts, Miss Aldous, Miss Eley, Miss Unwin,, Miss Pumphrey, Miss Davidson, two Miss Dawsons, Miss Mence, Miss Parr, Miss Orage, Miss Hodge, Miss Peet, Miss Blades, Miss Radford who come to mind immediately. On Armistice Day we would attend Church and then go to the cemetery where the “Last Post” would be played.
Often I would wake when they came home and Mother would tell us about the film they had seen. She always smelt so nice, “Evening in Paris” or Coty perfume. She always dressed very smartly and loved fur collars, her fur coat and the fox fur that went round her neck. I can still smell the fur, a mixture of perfume and cigarette smoke and just fur! She always wore high heels and a hat, even when cycling in the Village!
During our early years we had live-in maids, probably until we started School. When 1 was about four years of age we moved to a new bungalow, “Magnolia”, Swan Lane, Fenstanton, which was very modem and labour-saving., but 1 can remember Dorothy Cash (our maid) having the upstairs bedroom. After that Emily Carter was our help and she remained with my Mother for many years, even coming to stay when we moved to Bognor Regis.
It is interesting to see that although the Bungalow is still there, the fields behind are built on. However, the Magnolia still flowers, after 70 years!
The gardens of “Magnolia were beautifully landscaped, with lawns linked by paths and rose pergolas. In one comer was a rowing boat, upended and covered by Russian Vine, the oars made an arch and it was a Summer House for us to play in. There were attractive urns, a Sundial in the centre of the garden and a lead stork beside the birdbath. Beyond the vegetable garden, behind the hedge was a field, where we would ride “Peggy”, an old seaside pony who we hired from the local horse dealer Sid Barnett for the Summer holidays. Adjoining the Garage my Father had an
Garden at “Magnolia, Swan Lane, Fenstanton. Circa 1935
Office, with desk, typewriter and lots of files. He allowed us to use the old “Underwood “ typewriter and on Sundays we would type a Menu for lunch. Across the road, a narrow lane with a ditch alongside there were beautiful gardens belonging to a friend of my Mother. She had a large Cafe / Restaurant built in the style of a Swiss Chalet and in the grounds was a Lake in front of the Swiss Cottage, which had a thatched roof, a balcony and was a fairytale place for children. For the Clients there was an enormous Rocking horse and during weekdays and School holidays we were allowed to play in the gardens. Later on in 1941 we lived for a short time in Swiss Cottage.
Next door to us was another Bungalow and then the Tennis Club to which my Mother belonged.
In the Spring we loved to pick violets, primroses and cowslips along Conington Road and in Summer wild roses beside the road leading to the Fen.
We rode on our bicycles all around the Village, although we had to walk to the sweet shop on the main road., owned by Mrs. Tack. There would be rows of jars of all kinds of sweets and chocolate and on Saturday evenings we would be allowed by Auntie Crouch to buy a pennyworth of whatever we chose, about two ounces I suppose. We would buy her a Quarter of Pontefract cakes, flat liquorice “pennies” or chocolate satins, square cushion shaped boiled sweets with chocolate centres. Probably about two pennyworth!
Each Summer my parents went away on holiday together, on a Cruise, to Belgium, touring in France and as my Father was not keen on the beach holidays he would drive us down to Hunstanton where we rented a Bungalow as did other members of my Mother’s family and friends and we would stay for a week or two, when he would come down to collect us.
There were so many friends and cousins and they were very happy times. We had shrimping nets and would cook and eat these delicious little fish, which turned pink when cooked. All the children wore “paddlers”, these were little rubber shoes, quite hard to get on and off as they had to be tight to stay on in the water. Several of the smaller children wore large rubber knickers, dark brown, to keep us dry when sitting in the sand or paddling. ( The men in those days wore bathing costumes, generally in black with shoulder straps, similar to a ladies one piece today , no swimming trunks then! Ladies wore one piece costumes generally with a small skirt in the design and rubber swimming caps always.
Beach balls were made of rubber and had to be blown up. Kites were popular but hard to get into the air as there were none of the light plastic materials of today, probably balsa wood. Our friend Dorothy Blythe was brought up by her Grandparents in Church Street after her Mother died and left four young children and she used to spend a lot of time with us, coming on holiday and on days out. We loved having her with us and I loved her dearly.
On two occasions we went Southsea for holidays, which seemed an awfully long journey, especially if the car overheated and there would be stops to put water in the radiator. At that time we had a huge Fleet, a Navy to be proud of.
Both Jean and I started at the village school but soon after I started there Jean went on to Slepe Hall Girls School in St-Ives. Our Teacher in the Infants was Miss Munns, who had once been a girlfriend of my Father, during the first world war. She was a friend of my mother and often visited in the evenings and of course she was very nice to me.
A lot of her methods were ahead of that time, especially teaching the alphabet phonetically for example. Dental Health was quite important as we had Charts, with Gibbs Ivory Castles and red stickers to help the child reach the Ivory Castle if they cleaned their teeth every day.
At one time I used to sit next to a little gipsy boy called Henry Smith, who was very undersized and smelled of wood smoke. He wore a woollen jersey, with no shirt underneath, it must have been very scratchy. I know that some of the woollen jumpers that I wore were.
There were only three Classes in the School, Infants, Juniors and Seniors, who left at the age of 14. Most of the Girls would go into Domestic Service or the lucky ones into shop work. The boys often became errand boys, worked at the paper mill in St Ives or worked on the Land.
That was to change after 1939. It was very easy to shop at that time as everything was delivered. A list was given to the Grocer to be delivered. Wilderspin’s was the biggest Grocer’s in the village and it was a meeting place for the ladies to gather an discuss the local gossip. A child would be ignored and it took ages to be served!
Bob Martin had a Grocer’s shop in Chequers Street and Miss Mobbs was his assistant. Fish was bought from Henry Tabony, not far from there. Milk came from the Farm in the morning and again in the late afternoon. A chum would be on the milk float and a big jug with a ladle would be used to scoop it into your own jug. Milk bottles must have been used prior to the War, although in towns probably much earlier.
The Butcher, Mr.Knibbs, had a pony and trap. He was always late on Saturdays as he visited the local pubs, arriving with a red face and a strong smell of beer. No doubt his horse knew the round better than he did. We also bought meat during the week from Henry Aughton. Mrs. Aughton would sit in an enclosed kiosk taking the money and doing the accounts. Mr.Bond was the shoemaker and repairer . He worked in a tiny shop which seemed to be overflowing with old shoes! Gifford’s in the high Street delivered freshly baked bread.
Post seemed to be delivered twice daily, certainly at Christmas time there was a 4.30.p.m. delivery and always mail was delivered the day after posting.
Twice a week in Summer a man riding an Ice cream tricycle for Walls came round. If you wanted him to call you put a cardboard sign in the window with a big “W”.
Anything needed from town (St.lves) could be ‘phoned for and delivery would be by Carrier, Fred Jacobs with his cart and horse, “Primrose”.
Bryant’s Outfitters would send garments on approval by the Carrier.
The telephone was pedestal type, which you didn’t hold, just spoke into. On the side was a box with a handle which was turned to get the operator, hence the term “Ringing someone up “.
On one rainy afternoon aged about four I was ringing and speaking and asking for “Nor Nor”, my Mother’s friend Eleanor who she often rang. I must have been playing with the ‘phone for a long time because a telephone engineer arrived, with motor bike and side car, helmet and goggles, to sort out the problem I was causing.
Earlier I mentioned “Wallsy” as we called him, for ice cream, but the best ice cream of all was from Mrs. Tack’s, the local sweetshop. Homemade, from custard, a lovely deep yellow, not always ready, so we had to go back later for it.
Unfortunately she stopped making it during the war. There must have been fresh eggs in it, maybe cream, so it would be a luxury, as in fact was all ice cream, which could not be bought again until 1945. Today to make ice cream in a small back room behind the tiny shop would not be allowed.
Christmas in the 1930s was a magical time. Many of our friends had parties at Stiles Cafe in St. Ives and it was a time for party dresses dancing shoes and a velvet cloak to go in. Many would attend the same dancing classes and we were able to waltz, do the polka and some of the Old Time dances. On one occasion a Mother asked where I went to School, my reply was “the Council School”. This was my first awareness of snobbishness as my mother was not pleased with me. I should have said “the Village School “. (Does that sound better?) After that I didn’t like parties very much!
For Christmas we had beautiful dolls prams, better than baby buggies of today. A big baby doll one year, a cot with all the bedding. My lovely dolls House in about 1938. A children’s gramophone and always a pillowcase full of things. “Teddy Tails Annual”, Playbox Annual, crayons in a tube , soaps in the shape of animals, sugar pigs and sugar mice.
On Christmas Day Mrs. Carter used to come and help but would never have her Lunch with us, she said she preferred to be in the kitchen, but she would have a glass of sherry with us and come into the lounge to listen to the King’s speech, for she had no radio or “wireless” at home.
On Boxing Day in the afternoon we would go over to my Grandmother’s at Somersham, where there would be about twenty of us and we would play Bagatelle and various games that we had been given for Christmas.
Granny had a large house and there would be fires in the sitting room, dining room and huge kitchen although there was no electricity, only gas lights downstairs and oil lights and candles upstairs. The gas lights did not give a very good light and would hiss away and we could barely see to read. Granny was totally deaf and consequently did not have a radio but in the sitting room was a piano.
She always had a home cured ham hanging in the kitchen and there would be a whole ham on the table with homemade pickles and pickled walnuts from her walnut tree. Homemade bread which had to be smelled to be believed, cheese and mince pies. The table was large enough for everybody to sit down and there would be indoor fireworks. She had had nine children so space was never a problem. She always wore a long black dress with long sleeves and high neck and at her neck she wore a black velvet “choker” which had a brooch at the centre either an edelweiss or a daisy.
The ladies would drink port or sherry and the men would drink beer. There were homemade wines, elderberry or black currant I remember. As the evening wore on it would become quite merry and if one sat on the horsehair sofa it was not very comfortable as the hairs would prick little legs. It was usually after midnight when we arrived home and most people returned to work the following day.
My Mother had Bridge parties as already mentioned and we were often invited to tea parties. One lady Adeline Davidson who lived in a very large house “The Laurels” in the High Street invited us quite often. The house was so cold and the fire smoked. She always invited us the day after she had had the wealthiest family in the village to tea and we always suspected that the sandwiches were left over from the previous day!
The family mentioned were the Wrights and they would often ask me to tea with their daughter Jeanette. She had a governess, Miss Atkinson who would take us out on the pony and would organise card games or board games in their large playroom/schoolroom in the house which had once been owned by my Grandparents, “The Rookery”. I was also invited to Christmas parties there.
In the Summer of 1939 I stayed with Auntie Alice at Ramsey whist my parents toured France with their new Vauxhall 14. Jean boarded at Slepe Hall.
When they returned they were very alarmed about the situation in Europe and the prospect of war being declared. They felt that they had only just come home in time and from then onwards prepared for the eventuality of another war.
My father became Chief Air Raid Warden for the village and was issued with gas masks, whistles, rattles which would be sounded in gas attacks, protective clothing, dungarees, and large gas masks for babies to be placed in, also First Aid Dressings. Small children were issued with “Mickey Mouse “gas masks, coloured pink and blue.
Our sitting room was filled with this equipment which was gradually distributed round the village. Other members of the team would call and there would be a number of ‘phone calls. In the event of an air raid my Father would receive a call and then alert the villagers with a whistle! I do not remember it ever happening!
On September 3rd 1939 war with Germany was declared and we solemnly listened to the radio broadcast by Neville Chamberlain.
1 was eight years old and my sister Jean was twelve years of age. She had a friend, Pauline, staying and she was in tears, wanting to go home there and then as her Mother had told her a lot about the 1914/18 war and she was very frightened. Until then it had not meant a great deal to me as a child.
Britain was now at war with Germany and although we were very fortunate that we suffered no bombing and no real hardship in the way that millions did, the world was changing forever and the carefree days were over.
“Auntie “ Crouch, the Village midwife who delivered me.
Magnolia Cottage, Swan Lane, Fenstanton
Fenstanton School. Circa 1936. A fine example of our village children at that time. I am 5th from left. Jean is in middle row behind the two Welsh hats
In the grounds of “Oaklands” circa 1936 Left: Renee Smith, Centre: Sylvia Harradine, right: Grace Blythe and Dorothy Richards
It seemed that very soon after War was declared the arrival of evacuees began. School was divided between the village children and the evacuees and to start with we had morning or afternoon sessions but that eventually became School on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The evacuees came with their own Teachers .
There was an all-out effort to help the war effort, with iron railings being taken and old saucepans and pots and pans collected to “help build planes” ! We children collected newspapers and packets and would take them to School on a Saturday morning and help to sort them out.
At this time soldiers began to arrive in the village and camps were set up. We used to love to go on our Bicycles and talk to the sentry on duty. Many Army lorries, tanks and other vehicles passed through on the main road and when the convoys were parked up we would take them apples.
We became friendly with some of the evacuees and felt very sad that they were so far from home, so would invite them home from time to time. One family were billeted (HI and old couple, (and an odd couple ) in a very large house. They were looked after by the Housekeeper, a Miss Pitfield, who used to ride a man’s racing cycle through the village and she would collect nettles to make soup. The children, Jean, Phyllis and Peter didn’t appreciate nettle soup or her cooking. The eldest girl was about twelve and acted very responsibly towards her brother and sister, it must have been quite hard for her. At that time, children left School at fourteen . Next door was a boy of my age called Jack Archer. He was billeted with a couple who had no children and where the wife was over house-proud. Husband played the organ and they only lived in a lean-to scullery which had been built on to save the house from being used. So Jack and later a girl and boy never went into the house except to go to bed. Jack was very lonely and I only remember his Mother coming to see him once. He took a liking to me and I liked him, until he asked if he could kiss me one evening after we had been playing. After that I didn’t like him at all and was teased at school!
The Winter of 1940 was a hard one and there were snowdrifts in the fields behind our house.
In April 1940 I was 9 years old and it was decided to send me to School in St. Ives, a private School called Slepe Hall to join my Sister Jean, who had gone there at about the same age as myself So off I went with a new satchel, school uniform, black velour hat in winter and panama hat in summer. Black gymslip and white blouse with a green tie in winter and green cotton summer dress. It was necessary to cycle the 2.5 miles to and from St. Ives but during bad weather Daddy would put my bike on the back of the car and take me in. Before this he would take Jean, now she had to cycle both ways! My Mother was not anxious to have an evacuee so offered to have an Army officer billeted on us. His batman used to come daily to clean his shoes and press his uniform etc. so there was very little required of us. At about that time, maybe earlier, rationing came into being.
Summer of that year passed for us children happily enough. Many of the evacuees went home to London but the army presence remained in the village. They were at dances and social events and some played tennis at the Club to which my Mother was a member. Villagers offered hospitality ,to play cards etc. or just to have a bath and a meal. “Gone with the Wind” was on at the cinema in Cambridge, which we wait to see with the wife of (me of the soldiers, rattling off in a little Morris 8. We quite often visited the cinema in St. Ives to see Shirley Temple films, Deanna Durbin, who was a great favourite of my sister, and in fact she had most of ha records.
I spent a lot of time still with Dorothy Blythe who was a great friend to have. She lived with her Grandparents and two Uncles having lost her Mother when she was born . My Mother would take her on holiday with us .We would play cards in the evenings. The main entertainment apart from local socials were the village Fetes and when the Fair arrived. Eagerly looked forward to by all the children (and adults). My Mother enjoyed playing Bridge, which would take place at different homes and often meant sitting quietly when I went to meet ha before the game was finished.
The Vicar also played and would be entertained with tea, but he eventually was dismissed for having a homosexual relationship with a young teenage boy who was staying with him. This young man was a Conscientious Objector and there was a great scandal when the case appeared in the News of the World. Alas no more Bridge parties for the Vicar!
In the garden at “OAKLANDS” once home of the Saunders family. At that time owned by Miss Eley. Facing the camera Margaret, with Frank Barnett
Later on in the year it was decided that we would let our bungalow and move into St. Ives to be near the Chicory Factory, so that my Father would be on hand there in case of petrol shortage. This was very exciting as the house next to the Factory had been built by a Belgian and had every modem device (including a bidet in the bathroom)!
We had Central Heating and Mr. Prior who worked in the Factory used to come in twice daily to stoke the Boiler. We even had radiators in the Garage!
The Factory also provided Mrs. Turner to help with the heavy cleaning . Emily Carter came over from Fenstanton once a week. Now I realise how privileged we were. My Mother helped with a baby Clinic in St. Ives but still found time to play bridge and we had a lot of visitors.
It was in January 1941 that we moved and it was a very cold winter. Across the road fields had frozen and all of the family went skating. I had not skated before so my Mother found an old pair of skates that she had had as a child and I took a little chair to learn to skate!
In the Spring I celebrated my 10th Birthday with a picnic in the fields across the road with about six friends. We picked cowslips and milkmaids.
It was much nearer to cycle to school and still necessary to take gas masks as we often had a gas mask drill in case of attack.
It seemed that changes were afoot with the Chicory Factory, which involved visits to London by my Father and meetings with Joe Lyons, who was to buy the Company.
In 1942 Chicory Limited became English Chicory, owned by Lyons and it was necessary for my Father to move on, as conditions were unacceptable to him. It must have been a blow for him as we had let our bungalow in Fenstanton and it was necessary to find rented accommodation, which was difficult because of the influx of Service people and evacuees. He went to Huntingdon to work for the War Agricultural Executive Committee and as he was still Branch Secretary for the N.F.U. a post which he had held for most of his working life on a part time basis and was an Agent for N.F.U Mutual Assurance, he continued with these duties and was allowed a petrol allocation, so was still able to travel throughout the County.
Now faced with having to find another home for the time being, Mrs. Bennett who was friend of my Mother in Fenstanton let us rent Swiss Cottage, which was very near to the bungalow in Swan Lane. Our furniture had to go into store and we stayed there for the Summer of 1942.
Swiss Cottage was built in Swiss style, with a wooden balcony overlooking an ornamental lake in a lovely setting and where we had played when younger..
So once again we were in Fenstanton and with my friend Margaret Kiddle who I had known since we were babies, we enjoyed the village life. We both loved animals and helped at one of the farms. We would cycle to fetch the cows for milking, wash their udders, feed the calves and strip the cows after milking and were occasionally allowed to ride on the tractor to collect Lucerne to feed the cattle.
We moved back to St. Ives in the Autumn but I continued to cycle over to Fenstanton on Saturdays until we moved from the area, when my Father became County Secretary for West Sussex N.F.U . in 1944. We were sad to leave the County but visited many times over the coming years and have so many happy memories of village life.