Dennis Hart (1928-2010)
Dennis Hart (born 1928) took part in the ‘Walkern Memories: 935 Years’ project and exhibition on 8 November 2006, having his memories of Walkern recorded by Janet Woodall and his photo taken by local photographer Rod Shone. This transcription first appeared in the November 2007 issue of the Walkern Journal.
?My father, and my grandfather and my great grandfather, and my great great grandfather, and that’s as far as I’ve gone back, all born in Walkern. I tell you what, they were nearly all born in Froghall Lane, and now my daughter lives there! I was born in Froghall Lane, so was Father and grandfather. Not all in the same house. There were four cottages, I was born in the first one, father was born in the fourth one; they’re the first ones you come to on the left hand side, going up from the High Street, near the back of Wrights. We knew all the old characters, now we are the old characters!
I didn’t work for Wrights but my father did most of his life; grandfather did too. I worked for Brace’s at Benington, the agricultural engineers, when I left school, I went as an apprentice at King’s the carpenter, but after that? I couldn?t tell you how many jobs (laughs) the one that’ll pay the most money. When the town started they was calling out for tradesmen and you was never short of work then? My father worked for Wrights most of his life; grandfather had a team of horses and wagons ? they used to have wagons taking the beer round. In father’s day they made soft drinks and cider. There was about 100 blokes or more worked down there.
The old fellas who was scraping along on next to nothing, they used to follow the steam engine ? they used to get the chaff and cavings ? if you think of walking behind a combine when that’s throwing out all that dust, that’s what they used to do, they used to get farmer’s lung, but they didn?t take any notice of that. And these poor old boys, who could hardly walk, was on chaff and cavings ? it used to come underneath the drum of the threshing machine and they used to rake it out to keep it going, and that was the filthiest, dirtiest job you’ve ever seen. I’m sure it used to kill them all off.
We was around the fields as kids, always after trying to catch a rabbit or something for dinner, you know, Mother thought if you got a rabbit, marvellous. We used to set snares, go to the river and get trout ? there used to be trout in there ? father used to say ?get me a trout, that’s nice for me breakfast? he’d get Mother to soak it in salt and water …
You had to eat what you could. Father and everybody else had a great garden, I don’t know how they had time to do it I’m sure. Dad used to work seven days a week. I had to help in the garden ? that was part of it. There was allotments up by the Yew Tree? some people even had a pig in there! George Young had a pig in there. He used to live down Totts Lane. Yes, some people had a pig in the garden, everybody had chickens, we always had chickens? otherwise you didn’t have anything for Christmas did you? Everybody had a chicken for Christmas. You used to pay in a slate club in the pub for Christmas, they used to pay an amount each week, a shilling or two, and then if you was ill or laid up you used to get 10 shillings a week from the slate club ? ’cause nobody paid you anything if you was sick, if you was sick more than three weeks they’d kick you out your house, you got no money, it was living from hand to mouth most of the time ? so you used to pay in the slate club and then just before Christmas you?d have a share in it. What was left you?d all get a share. Everyone would put in for a slate club. I think most pubs ran a slate club.
There?s only been three pubs in my time, in father’s time there was four, there was the Three Horse Shoes. There was one at Clay End, the King’s Cross ? as the road goes up to Walkern Park, it’s just a bit further up from the triangle, the last house actually on the left hand side. But Miss Cotton-Browne closed that because she didn’t like the idea of them drinking beer I think on the estate. I don’t think she did the village a lot of good. She passed out a bit of money but she was the Governor. She stopped the car with the chauffeur and made us boys salute, yes you had to salute her when she went by, if you didn’t she’d stop the car and ask you who your father was and everything ? he might lose his job and his house! It was as bad as that, oh yes! She’d have a bit of fun sometimes, she’d stand on the school steps with a tin of sweets and throw them out on the yard and watch us fight for them. She used to come into school; we all had to get up and ?Good morning Miss Cotton-Brown? and salute her.
Jack Adams used to drive her, that’s her chauffeur, I don’t remember her driving but she may well have done. He lived up under her all his life as far as I know. I know which house he lived in up at Clay End. He was the chauffeur and she’d sit in the back with a great big hat on like old Queen Mary, like a Christmas cake on top of her head. That was her. I’m blowed if I’d have wanted to work for her. If she caught us boys it was ?What are you doing on my land?? and we’d be on a footpath! She had Gamekeepers and everybody in the house, boot boys and all that? my uncle was a boot boy up there, he volunteered for the First World War at 16, of course he had to go up there and show her his suit ’cause they used to buy him a suit, and I think she reluctantly let him keep it ? he was going out to get killed probably.
They all come from Froghall Lane and he volunteered but grandmother didn’t know nothing about it and he’d gone. She did find out where he’d gone and got on to the commanding officer and got a reply back we’re sorry but he’s in France, he’s in the trenches. He was 16. Next thing she had a letter to say he was in Leicester, wounded. He declared he didn’t want to go back again and as soon as they knew his age he shouldn’t have been out there anyhow! So he came back and couldn’t get a job anywhere, so he found a gun and some cartridges and used to go around poaching. Of course he got caught didn’t he. Fined a pound in Stevenage court. He took his 4 10 up the wood and shot all the pheasants in the pen and sold them. He had to find the money to pay the fine! He come back from fighting in the war and got nothing.?