Marjorie Ashurst (1920-2016)
Marjorie Ashurst (born 1920) took part in the Walkern Memories: 935 Years project and exhibition, having her memories of Walkern recorded by Janet Woodall and her photo taken by local photographer Rod Shone, on 6 October 2006. This transcription first appeared in the from the Dec 2007 / Jan 2008 issue of the Walkern Journal.Marjorie Ashurst. Photo by Rod Shone
I was born in Walkern opposite the White lion in what is now Tony Carter?s house. There were ?rooms? there where we came after the war. I was actually born there. My family opened the cycle shop, Boormans, next to the Yew Tree, and we moved there, me and my brother.
Village sport fields
The horse field in Totts Lane was supposed to be the village football ground. There used to be a donkey in the field before the horses; there were pigs before that. That whole bit was given to the village by Miss Cotton-Brown ? but it was all very rough. The football team didn?t like that bit of field ? it was very rough and the river was there ? the ball was always going in the river. So they used to play football on Stevenage Road, opposite the houses. They hired that.
The bit nearest Totts Lane was the tennis court and bowling green. The bowling green was beautiful. During the war the search light was put on our tennis court. After the war they tried to get the bowling green back ? the old chaps, they tried and tried ? it used to be so beautiful. They employed a grounds man, it had high wire around it ? locked up ? the holy of holies. Then the searchlight was put there and it wrecked the whole place. It was awful really. Why they had to put it there I don?t know. And of course the searchlight moved up to Bassus Green and they just left it.
There were cattle on the hill opposite this ?charity land?, over the other side of the river. Such a lovely Hill. So much pasture land was ploughed up during the war. It was wonderful before that ? right over to Walkern Hall. There was so much pasture land, even though it?s an arable area. And there were chalk pits up there. When we came back after the war they were all gone. They were up Dirty Lane. That?s a wonderful Lane. The chalk pits were on the left hand side.
If you go along the footpath that skirts Ardeleybury Manor you come out at the Ardeley ?Calvary? which is dedicated to the vicar?s son in WWI. One of the fields at the top was where they used to play cricket. They had to go there early in the morning before the cricket match to clear up the cowpats. It was a very rough field, but they played there. Ardeley and Benington had very good teams, but Walkern cricket team always had to be made up. The Ardeley and Benington teams ? well, they were heros! You see, both Ardeley and Benington had money. They had village halls built and cricket teams supported. Walkern wasn?t really a feudal village and it struggled a bit more. In Ardeley, the cricket field was where you turn the corner into the village ? it was only a few years back that they had to give it up. Walkern had the fields but not such a good team. They had football but not so much cricket. But they were our local heros.
The Cotton-Browns at Walkern Hall did sponsor things in Walkern but they were more into Benington. They were benefactors, but very autocratic people, especially Isobella, who was the last one. Miss Cotton-Brown. They were very wealthy ? had maids, footmen, the whole lot. Miss Cotton-Brown was a huge woman, and very autocratic. She drove a big car ? very recklessly. A huge brown car. She had a chauffeur who would sit next to her while she drove.
She wouldn?t let anyone living up near Walkern Hall have a motorbike. I had a friend who got a job in Hertford and he had really hard work to be allowed to have a motorbike to get to Hertford. She eventually said you can have one as long as you drive up around the other way and not past Walkern Hall.
The Walkern and Ardeley Flower Show was held one year at Ardeleybury Manor and the next at Walkern Hall ? alternate years. It went on for years. Walkern/Ardeley were really bonded a lot in that way.
SchoolMarjorie Ashurst and brothers circa 1925
I was at the old school for one term, then I went to the new school. I was five. There was only one room. Infants at one end, juniors the other. Most village schools were like that. I think the seniors had another school. I can remember the smell in the cupboard when you opened the door, the smell of slates and pencils and books. I became a pupil teacher, and when I opened the cupboard I remember thinking it was the same smell.
The old school had a playground (as far as I can remember). A large, empty space. I have a memory of leaving the playground and going up Dirty Lane ? just wandering up there. One of the big boys had to be sent to find me. I just thought you could go where you liked! I don?t remember anyone else being with me, there might have been. He came up and was fierce!
I remember my first day at the new school. We all arrived in time but couldn?t get in! The keys had been left in Hertford ? the County Council. So we were all told to go home and come back in the afternoon, which we did, and by that time they had the keys and we got in, but there were no chairs or desks. We sat on the floor with the blackboards.
The main road wasn?t tarmac?d until about 1930. I remember all the piles of shingle on the path. Stevenage Road was called Stevenage Lane for a long time, still not tarmac?d. And up the hill to Bassus Green, it was years before that was surfaced. It was gravely, really rough, but gravelled. Carts used to come careering down there.
Walkern Rectory, which has a long room downstairs, was used for maternity beds ? women from London. They evacuated pregnant women. I don?t know that many were born there ? but some were. Most were sent to the homes in Hitchin, had their babies, then went home.
Pearmans and the Mill
The Pearmans who owned the Mill (they didn?t live at the Mill House ? that was where the miller lived) were quite well off. They had one resident maid and a gardener who lived in one of the cottages, and they had a couple of ?dailies?. They also had what we used to call a cook general ? poor thing ? they had to do a bit of housework as well as other things. She used to answer the door.
They belonged to the non-conformist church. Most of the people did that ran the mill, and the mineral water factory. They were all well off and non-conformist.
I remember as a child going down to the Mill, being taken there by my grandmother to watch the sacks going up. All the farmers brought their corn in.
The Pearmans has two sons and a daughter. It was their daughter, Joan, who taught me music. The eldest son, Jack, ran the mill after his father died very young. Later he went to the church and the mill was sold off to Garratts at Hertford. The Mill used to supply Garratts with their flour, and they took the mill on when Jack Pearman took holy orders.
The youngest son, Philip, was an actor. He married Coral Brown, the actress. He didn?t really make his name on the stage ? I think he was in a couple of films, which of course we all flocked to see. Small parts.
During the war, the daughter, Joan, and I served together in the Red Cross. I was always very in awe of her when she taught me piano. She was about 14 years older than me. But it all levelled out during the war. One of the daughters from Ardeleybury Manor came as well. I thought to myself ?gosh what will people say?? ?will I have to share a bedroom with one of them??. I did. At one time there were three to a room. It was so different then. They were fun, good fun. Lovely to get on with.