One of the saddest things in modern day life, certainly in the UK if not indeed in most of Western society, is that families no longer have that special time together, and indeed that close distinct personal relationship, whereby the most elderly and decrepit members will sit with the youngest, but nevertheless the most eagerly mentally receptive, to reminisce about their own childhood, and to recount tales of times long gone by, with fascinating stories of lives and times of the past, and all that vision leaving even small children spellbound in wonderment of how things had been then in those days, and in their imagination thinking how they themselves would have enjoyed (or suffered!) it, rather than experiencing their own current mundane days, perhaps?
Many of the current older folk in Britain, will know quite a lot about not only their Mum’s and Dad’s past lives, but will have also some knowledge about their other relatives’ and particularly their grandparents’ lifestyles – because it will have been passed-on ‘by word of mouth’, in the tradition of our ancestors, century after century since time immemorial?
However, that seems to have all changed for the worse, and that change would seem to have been driven by modern technology – in particular by computers, electronics, mobile phones, social media and the rest, eh? Even within a household, many people no longer talk (well not face-to-face, then?), but just text each other, even in the other room, if they have something to say, perhaps?
Well, there is a lovely little village in north Yorkshire that has changed little, certainly in terms of appearance, over the past couple of centuries, with its solid stone built houses well withstanding the winter bracing weather and the passage of time. Its name is Kilburn (not to be confused with an area of London of course!), and nestling below the Hambleton Hills and its White Horse, it lies on the south-western edge of the North York Moors National Park.
It is well worth a visit and stay if you fancy seeing the delightful scenery of the Moors area, much of which is desolate farmland, with dry-stone walls, hedges and open moorland marking out the landscape, where you can take diverse walks along footpaths and country lanes (if you are up to it!).
A past girl of the village has left a fascinating account of her childhood memories of what life was like in Kilburn a hundred years or so ago, and it is reproduced below for your enjoyment, hopefully?
Mary Robinson’s Memories
Mary Robinson made these notes before she died in Scarborough at the end of the twentieth century. She was the blacksmith’s daughter and remembers Kilburn when she was a girl in the 1920’s.
Unlike today, life took place at a very slow kind of pace. The cottages seemed to have been the same for many years with many few alterations made. Most of them were of stone, and all had a little house in the back garden, or back yard, called a closet. I do not think that anyone in the village had indoor sanitation, and most people had not even heard of it!
Most houses had a portion of land on which haymaking was done, after the local farmers had cut it for them. We were all involved with this, raking and shaking, and leading the hay. The son of the people at the little shop and post office used to get as many of us young folk as possible to assist him with his hay. We looked forward to this event as we were rewarded with a large supper his mother made for us at nearly ten o’clock at night after the hay was brought in.
The fields near the village had strange sounding names that made you think of who might have owned them in the past. ‘John Woods Hill, ‘Shipley Field’, ‘Skilbeck Wood’. There were also the ‘Garden Shares’, and the ‘Little Plantings’. To get to certain of these fields we had to use lanes like ‘Tig-Tag’, ‘Trenchers’, ‘Pick and Look’, and ‘River Lane’.
No one in the village owned a car, but it was a wonderful sight to see all the different kinds of horses. My father was the blacksmith and farrier and so it was wonderful to see the horses being shod, or doctored. He also travelled the farms doctoring horses, sheep, and cows. Dad left school when he was thirteen, but seemed to have the gift of curing sick and lame animals, something her certainly did not learn at school.
The blacksmith’s shop was a hive of noise at times with all the farm horses and hunting horses. Miss Cooper Abbs from ‘Oldstead Hall’ would bring their little Shetland ponies, a pair of which they used to draw the trap. Big horses that were used for heavy work, toured the countryside; it made me wonder how a man managed to shoe them, as they were so big. On other days the shop was quiet and my father would retire to the pub with his farmer friends to drink all day. No work was done, but much shouting came from across the road. It was bedtime when they all staggered home. One farmer who lived a couple of miles from the village was placed in a trap and the pony would take him home. I was very frightened of those times; if my father had had “words” with any of the men then he would be in very bad humour. I used to listen for him coming into the house, and was frightened for my mother although I had no reason to be. I often still hear the anvil ringing, or see, in my mind’s eye, my mother and dad hooping wheels at the side of the bridge. I can still hear the horses taking loads of hay, or harvest, down the village street.
I remember the day at school when a lady from America gave all the children gifts and sweets. A big bag of sweets was something we got only once a year, if at all. Pocket money consisted of our Saturday penny once a week. Money was scarce, and I remember trailing around the farms with my mother taking the horse shoeing bills. Sometimes she received 5 shillings, or two and sixpence off the bill, which meant we had to go two or three times before the bill was paid off. One farmer gave us milk in lieu of his three horses being shod regularly, and we got meat from the butcher in the same way.
Most of the village was owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and ‘Rent Day’ was held once a year at the pub where a big dinner was provided for those about to pay their rent. The three Miss Boltons and their brother John ran the pub until John died in early middle age. They were such nice ladies and lived at the pub most of their lives. In those days people were strong, worked very hard and ate well, making rent day the hardest of the year for the Boltons.
If anyone wished to get to the little market town 6 miles away, they either had to walk there and back, or went on the carrier’s wagon. Occasionally we went for the day in our summer holidays. It was a big treat and I enjoyed listening to the folk talking and joking in their broad Yorkshire accent, and watching the scenery go by from the back of the covered wagon. It was such a leisurely drive.
There were around 170 people in the village then, and so everyone knew each other. Entertainment was what you made at home, or through the little happenings in the village. On a summer’s evening my friend Janet and I would go sticking. I think we just about cleared all the hedges of dead wood. Some farmers were not well pleased about this and told us off, but we did enjoy doing it and it meant we always had plenty of wood to heat the old oven in which the cooking was done.
The main part of the village contained the joiner’s shop, the blacksmith’s shop, the shop and post office, the pub, the school, and behind the square stood the church in the churchyard. The joiner’s shop was a flat building behind the pub with smaller shop across the road Mr Thompson. Any boy leaving school to become an apprentice though himself very lucky. One of my brothers went to work for Mr Thompson. He earned 7 shillings a week, and he loved it. In order to a little more money my brother would go rabbiting, setting traps and snares to catch them. He would get up early in the morning to check his traps, walking many miles across the fields to do so. One of my favourite dinners was young rabbit pie with new potatoes, fresh peas and a bit of bacon.
Each house baked regularly. We always looked forward to a plate pie such as apple, gooseberry, blackcurrant, raspberry, red current, rhubarb, and of course blackberry. When the brambles were ripe we would go off for the whole day picking and return with stones of fruit. At the same time, we would we would climb our favourite apple tree to gather the fruit. They had such lovely names; Lemon Pippin, Flowery Town, Fair Maid, Dry Bottle, Honey Apple, Keswick, and Cock Red. Once home again mother would start making pies and jam. She had to sir the large brass pan over the fire constantly for fear of the jam burning. Any spare fruit was sold in Thirsk.
In the winter evenings we made clipped rugs from old clothes. As our family was large we had a large supply of garments that could be cut up. The rugs were made on a quilting frame that held a candle at each end so we could see what we were doing. The finished rugs would go down on the floor instead of carpet. My brother would play the violin by ear and my dad played the concertina, or melodeon. I liked to go to the farm to collect the milk in the morning and evening. The farmer would also play the melodeon and he sang to me whilst the summer crickets chirped in time with his song.
When anyone in the village died there was a big ceremony. All the relations got black-edged cards. I remember my mother took me to a funeral tea in the long musky room at the pub. The tables just groaned with food, but everyone looked sombre in their deep black clothes.
I thought the girls in their teens looked very bonny, one in particular lived at the high village and some of us would visit her house to have our hair cut for six pence a time. In the old granary at the village farm were held dancing classes, where a young woman from the next village payed the piano. A very bonny young lady who was an excellent dancer, taught the young folk to dance. I was not allowed to join the class as I had not left school, but would sneak up our orchard and along Hack Lane to watch and listen.
My youngest brother was nearly 7 years old when my sister was born. In the village there was always one person who would act as midwife, and this time it was Janet’s mother who came. Janet and I were helping her in the house until we were bustled out. We were dying to know if the baby was a girl as I was the only girl amongst six boys. The doctor was an Irishman and although he was always kind to mother I was frightened of him and would hide in the cupboard under the stairs if I saw him coming. However, on this occasion I held my ground and we watched him arrive and then, some time later, depart. We went to the back door and opened it very gently. Inside Dad and Mrs Mawe were arguing about the weight of the baby; we heard her say, “It’s a girl”. The door squeaked so we closed it and Mrs Mawe shouted that we were to get away as she could not be bothered with us just then
[Interestingly, an early 1847 title map of local fields included these other previous picturesque names: ‘Pickle Nook’, ‘Cony Close”, Broom Field’, ‘Kirk Ings’ (land near water perhaps once church property), ‘Intack’ – a piece of land taken in from the waste), ‘Priest Brigg’ (probably once the property of the parish priest), ‘Butter Hill’, ‘Poor Field’ (still held by Kilburn Charity), ‘Thistle Close’, ‘Cell Garth’ (marking the site of an ancient religious cell?), ‘Beck Ings’, ‘Lamp Ings’ (perhaps the rent maintained a light before the alter in the parish church), ‘Old Wife Close’, ‘Little Thief’ , ‘Bean Field’, ‘Licorice field’, ‘Twelve Days Mowing’, ‘Bleach Garth’, ‘Cricket Field’, but or course in recent years these have become more of a local nature.
Note for the younger person then:
“Old money” or pounds, shillings and pence changed on 15 February 1971, when D-Day – Decimal Day, came, and Britain switched over to the new decimal currency we know today, where 100 pence made 1-pound sterling.
So, in the 1920’s one penny ‘pocket money’ is the equivalent of about 4 tenths of a new penny now, ‘sixpence’ for a haircut is just 2½ new pence (but we no longer have a ½ pence coin!), while wages of ‘7 shillings’ would be 35 pence in today’s money, eh?
The ‘purchasing worth’ of an old penny would have been just 15 new pence, sixpence about 90 pence, and 7 shillings about £13!
[Wherever you live on the globe, if you yourself are getting- on in years, just tell YOUR story of your childhood to your own children and grandchildren in words before your memory fades too far. Equally importantly write it down as well if you can, so others can also read about it all. If you can send it or notes to me then I will certainly put it together for you and publish it to the wider world as well]