THE MILLER’S TALE
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THE MEMOIRS OF RALPH SEYMOUR
CORN MERCHANT, MILLER AND CLERK IN HOLY ORDERS


 

FOREWORD


I knew Ralph Seymour slightly.  Having transcribed the following chapters I realise that I was the poorer for not knowing him better, for that opportunity did once exist.  We’re always wise with hindsight.

For the greater part of my working life I was in government service.  During the mid 1970s I was posted to a Ministry of Defence computer centre near Stockport.  Its role was to pay the wages of the thousands of civilians then working at the Ministry’s dockyards, army units and air bases dotted around the land (few of which survive).  My job was to audit the many and varied pay, allowance and productivity schemes then in operation.  Technical matters concerning the treatment of National Insurance Contributions led me to interview the centre’s guru on such matters, a certain lady who a few months later became my wife.

Regulation audit often involved extracting certain information from the Ministry’s computer files.  Believing that if you want a job doing properly then do it yourself, I taught myself to program a mainframe computer, albeit at a fairly basic level.  When word of this leaked back to head office’ I was soon transferred to London, the hub of auditing activities, for at that time any auditor who knew what a punched card was was considered to be a ‘computer expert’, and such were in short supply.  And so my new wife and I duly set up house within commuting distance of London, at Tring.  Despite the financial hardship of relocating to a high cost housing area and the weary trek into London throughout the week, I never regretted moving to this delightful area.

The removal men − having deposited our modest collection of furniture in our newly built house  −  had barely set off on their homeward journey when there came a knock at our front door.  I opened it to find an elderly, rather short, stout and genial clergyman on the doorstep. “I happened to be passing and thought I would take this opportunity of welcoming you to the neighbourhood” or words to that effect formed his opening remark.  And so Jean and I met our first Tring resident and over a cup of tea − another first in Tring − the Reverend Ralph Seymour told us much about the Town and its locality.


From all reports Ralph was definitely a ladies man.


Some 18 months later I found myself knocking on Ralphs front door, my visit being to ask if he would officiate at Jeans funeral.  I was distressed and Ralph provided, quite literally, a shoulder to cry on − from the way he handled the situation I guess I wasnt the first distraught parishioner he had comforted down the years.  Having sorted out some ecclesiastical difficulty − for he was the curate, not the vicar − Ralph did conduct Jean’s funeral, in his eulogy speaking as if he had known her all her life.

That was the last time Ralph and I spoke.  Subsequently, I saw him on odd occasions within waving distance, but with the memory of tears at our earlier meetings still vivid in mind I always felt too embarrassed to cross the road.  Some years later my second wife and I attended evensong at St. John the Baptist, Aldbury, to find Ralph rather than the regular incumbent in the pulpit.  I cannot remember the text for his sermon but I do recall how extremely well he preached.

Ralph died in 1999, aged 93.

A few years ago while looking into the history of our local windmills I came across the manuscript of Ralph’s unpublished autobiography.  I read it with interest, but did nothing further.  A more recent visit to Heygates Flour Mill − which Ralph managed for many years − brought the manuscript back to mind.  Having reread it I felt that this interesting piece of local history ought to be available to the local community, so having tracked down his daughter Brenda − now a successful hotelier in Cumbria − I obtained her permission to publish on the Internet.


A. Harvey-Taylor (Aylesbury) narrow boats at Tring Flour Mills on the Wendover Arm.
 

Ralph was born in Tring and served the Town all his life.  As a boy he began work in the corn industry, later moving to Wm N. Mead Ltd. (now Heygates) Flour Mills at Tring (pictured above) where he became General Manager.  Being in a tied occupation, he served in the Home Guard during World War II.


The Revd Ralph Seymour.


In 1973, by then aged 67, he applied successfully to study for the Anglican ministry and entered Cuddesdon College.  Ordained that September, Ralph then served as Honorary Canon at Tring from 1973 until 1980 with permission to officiate until 1996.  On his 90th birthday he took the communion service at the celebration held for him at Tring Parish Church.  Other roles that Ralph occupied in public life were as a member of Tring Urban District Council (occupying the Chair on four separate occasions) and later of the Town Council; as a Governor of Tring School (1939-1973); and for many years as a trustee of the Tring Charities serving for some years as Chairman.  He also served as both a committee member and Chairman of the Herts & Essex Corn Merchants Association.

Ian Petticrew

February, 2017.


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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I would like to thank Wendy Austin, Mike Bass, Chris Hoare, Phil Lawrence and Annette Reynolds for the text and images they contributed, which together form a substantial part of the following memoirs. Also Ralph’s daughter, Mrs Brenda Milsom, for her permission to publish the material on the Internet.


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CONTENTS

BOYHOOD MEMORIES

THE DUSTY MILLER IN TIMES OF PEACE 1919-1923

OF FAMILY, HOUSES AND GARDENING 1923-1939

THE WAR YEARS AND BEYOND 1939-1950

CHANGES AT THE MILL

SEVEN VICARS OF TRING

OBITUARY: RALPH SEYMOUR

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OTHER LOCAL HISTORY TITLES


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BOYHOOD MEMORIES

MY EARLIEST YEARS


After I was born, my mother was quite seriously ill, and consequently I was put out to a foster mother, a Mrs. Clarke in Akeman Street.  The house was double fronted with a central passage on one side of which was the living room and on the other side the sitting room.

My earliest recollection was the day the door to the sitting room was open and in the centre of the room was a large basket of rosy apples.  I sidled on my bottom toward the apples for I could not yet walk, only to be whipped and carried away by Mrs. Clarke calling me a young varmit in the process.  This happened each time the door was left open.  Meanwhile my sister Alice was taken to live with an Aunt and Uncle at Old House Farm, High Wycombe.

My father secured the help of a local woman who came in daily to do the housework.  My two brothers, younger than my sister, and my older brother in his teens were also able to help.  I fear that father went through a very difficult period for a year or two.  For me this state affairs lasted until I could say a word or two.

One afternoon Mrs. Clarke took me up to see my mother whom I addressed as the “Lady” because I addressed Mrs. Clarke as “Mummy”.  That night, apparently, my mother insisted that I was to come home to live.  Although still a semi-invalid she was able to ease conditions in the home.

We then lived in 16 Longfield Road and houses were being built opposite.  By this time my mother was considerably improved healthwise and was able to walk into the town.  She had bought me a linen sailor suit, my pride and joy.  It had bell bottomed trousers with blue piping, a lanyard and straw hat with “H. M. S. Victory” proudly displayed on it.

One day mother had a friend come to stay for a few days.  I was rigged out in my sailor suit and told to be still and wait, while the two ladies went to dress up for a walk.  Well, my male friends, you know how long this exercise takes with the ladies!  After what to me seemed hours, I could sit still no longer and went down the passage and across the road to where the builders were busy.  There a heap of sand proved to be irresistible.  Eventually I heard by mother calling me.  I went quickly saying that I would not do it again for I knew I was in for trouble.  Off came my sailor suit and an ordinary one was put on.

During the time mothers friend was with us, she made a greengage suet pudding.  When this was taken out of the saucepan the covering cloth was streaked with purple.  I had only slipped in a piece of mauve crayon while it was being prepared.  It must have been a relief to mother when, at the age five, I began my education by attending Gravelly Infants School (since demolished).

We had a large kitchen garden in addition to which father rented an allotment at Duckmore Lane.  The rent of a 10 pole plot was five shillings per year (25p), but the Rothschild Estate to whom the allotments belonged, issued a voucher to the value of seven shillings and sixpence (37.5p) to all allotment holders.  This was exchangeable for beef at Christmas.  Consequently, no plots were uncultivated.  So we were self supporting in potatoes and fresh vegetables.



LIFE ON THE ALLOTMENT


As a staunch churchman, father taught us children to observe Sunday very strictly − no work for him and no games for us.  However, he had an exception to this rule, as on Good Friday he would be busy on his allotment.  From about the age of ten years it was my job to fetch up all the old brussel sprout stalks and burn them.  Having dug them up, I would pile them up in the form of at pyramid and leave them for a week for all the sap to dry out.  They would then be mixed with the wood from the old peasticks, while remaining in the pyramid form.  The secret was to ensure that a current of air would circulate through them.  If you allowed the pile to become flat, the fire would go out and you would have to start all over again.

After a few years I was promoted to dig half a spit of soil ahead of father.  He was a perfectionist.  “Now then, stand up over your fork and lift the soil up and don’t pat it down.  It needs light and air.

Before I graduated so to speak, I loved Sundays in the winter.  We would all site down including father, to our midday meal.  Then about 3 oclock father would go off to his allotment, bringing back, brussel sprouts, turnips, parsnips and a stick of celery.  Then in the gloaming of the evening we would sit round the fire in the kitchen and mother would usually set the ball rolling entertaining us with stories such as “The Mistletoe Bough”.  In this the bride of the day was playing hide and seek with the wedding guests and hid in an old oak chest, when the catch of the lid closed.  “Did she really die?” we would ask, and at the sad response I usually had tears running down my cheeks.  Then mother would start singing songs such as “Do ye ken John Peel” and “Robin Adair.  She was a wonderful raconteur.  Oh that families could participate in such simple joys today.  It is the lack of families joining in activities together which is largely the cause of so many broken marriages today.



SATURDAY CHORES


When I reached the age of 13 it became my responsibility to do the Saturday chores. First the Sunday shoes of the family had to be checked and thoroughly cleaned and polished.  Then the knives had to be cleaned.  They were steel and not stainless, as stainless knives were not then in use.  There was a special board, an inch thick, nine inches wide and two feet long, to which was glued a strip of soft leather.  The board was then dusted with Goddard’s knife powder.  You then had to rub each knife up and down the board until it shone and every little black spot was removed.  Then the kindling wood and coal for the fires had to be replenished.

After these jobs were completed I had to wash and make myself tidy.  I then cycled to the town to collect one and half pounds of haslet (lean pork from the side of a pig of 20 score or more).  Reaching home, this was put into a wooden bowl.  Then some bread was added, which had been soaked and then squeezed in a cloth to expel excess moisture, also salt and pepper and dried sage leaves.  With the use of a half-moon shaped steel chopper, I had to work to reduce the whole mixture to a fine texture until it had satisfied my mother’s eagle eye.

In the season I then had to go to Hockney’s glass houses and buy two pounds of splits or misshaped tomatoes; also some for normal use.  In the winter we used tinned tomatoes.  On Sunday morning the sausage meat was made into the shape of rissoles and then fried.  In the meantime rashers of home-cured bacon were fried together with the tomatoes.  What it feast for a hungry lad.  I can still recall the joy of it.  Now, alas, plain country living has disappeared to be replaced by packet breakfasts and calorie lectures!



AN OUTING TO THE BRIDGWATER MONUMENT


Summer school holidays seemed to stretch on for ever, but by the time I was 10 years old my mothers health had improved considerably so she would plan an occasional outing for me and my sister.  One of the most enjoyable was a trip to Aldbury monument.

Food for the day was prepared and we would catch the horse bus from what was then the Britannia public house at the bottom of Park Road.  This took us as far as Tring station and from there we would walk to Aldbury and up to the Bridgewater column.  Then we would have our picnic lunch amid the beautiful surroundings of the woods with the song of the birds for our orchestra.

Me and my sister were always eager to climb up the circular steps to the top of the Column and we would arrive breathless to admire the wonderful view of the surrounding countryside and Aldbury village nestling below.  Our climbs were usually limited to two in number as each time one penny had to he paid for admittance.  What halcyon days they were!

We usually spent the afternoon exploring the many paths and glades of the woods.  By four o‘clock my mother had rested and tea was called for.  So we went to a cottage in the woods to procure, for a small fee, boiling water for the brew and we then enjoyed the goodies that mother had packed.  Then we walked back to the station to catch the horse bus back.  Can you wonder that such outings are enshrined in my happy memories?



EVENSONG AT DRAYTON BEAUCHAMP


Occasionally on Sunday evenings during the Summer months, mother together with me and my sister would walk to a local country church to attend Evensong.  We often went to Drayton Beauchamp.  We walked along the county Herts-Bucks boundary over the fields.  Then we continued along the side of the “dry canal” [The Wendover Arm - that section has now been restored].

There were three bells to the Church which were not rung but pealed.  As soon as we were able to hear them we would invariably sing “Fill dung cart” which we thought was our own idea.  Many years later I preached at a Harvest Festival service and in doing so, mentioned this fact.  After the service a villager said, “You didn’t finish your quotation, sir”.  To my interest and surprise she told me that the full version was “Fill dung cart, Bill Vinnicombe”, and was well known.  Despite many subsequent enquiries I could never find out who Bill Vinnicombe was, or the origin of the ditty.

When we attended Evensong in my youth, the organist was Squire Jenny who had the habit of rocking backwards and forwards as he played.  Drayton Beauchamp is a lovely church sat in rural surroundings.  It contains some exquisite stained glass windows.



St. Mary the Virgin, Drayton Beauchamp


Suitably refreshed spiritually we walked back home to a supper of cold meat from the Sunday joint and cold vegetables.  I can still in my memory recall the taste of new potatoes, peas, broad beans etc. from father’s garden.  How sad to think that today countless people have never tasted fresh vegetables but rely upon tinned and frozen varieties with their meals.



COLLECTING SHEEP MANURE


My father was a very good gardener, both for vegetables and for flowers.  He used to raise geraniums from cuttings and bedding plants from seed in the conservatory at the front of the house.  For these he required fine mould, and so each Spring my brother and I set off for Stubbins Wood, equipped with a wooden box mounted on an old perambulator chassis, two small shovels and a hand sieve.  The box had originally held loose sugar which was then weighed out into stout blue paper bags of either 1lb or 2lb by the grocer.

Upon reaching the wood we would search for a hollow where beech leaves had piled up.  Removing the top layers revealed lovely rich mould, which we then riddled to remove large pieces of soil and stones.  To this rich soil, silver sand was added, which we fetched from the builder’s merchants yard in Western Road.

Father grew tomatoes in the conservatory and also outdoors against the corrugated iron fence of an old pig sty at the top of the garden which retained the heat of the sun.  If you enjoy a tomato, then take one ripe direct from an outdoor plant warm from the sun.  To successfully raise his tomatoes father required sheep manure.  My brother and I would set off with small shovels and our Tate & Lyle sugar box truck for Drayton Beauchamp which as you know has a very steep hill.  Now the left hand side is covered with scrub, but at that time consisted of succulent grass.

The owner of Upper Farm, Drayton Beauchamp, owned a flock of Hampshire Down sheep and from time to time they were brought to graze the hillside; hence our source of droppings.  This particular morning there was a plentiful supply and we started to fill up at once.  We had almost reached the bottom of the hill when we saw Daniel Heam the shepherd smoking his clay pipe.

“Well, Master Bill”, he said to my brother.  “What do you reckon you be up to?”.  “Getting sheep droppings, Mr Heam, for father’s tomatoes”, Bill replied.  The response was “Well, you two silly young beggars, you’ve got your truck well nigh full”.  “Yes, that’s that we came for”.  “Yes, but why didn’t you bring it down to the bottom of the hill empty, and fill it as you went up.  Now you’ve got to push it all the way up the hill full up”.  A lesson applied to life which I have never forgotten.

When we got back home the sheep droppings were transferred to a hessian bag and left to soak in the rain water butt.  This supply was then used to add to the watering can.  I can tell you that the resultant fruit was absolutely delicious.



THE BILLETING OFFICER


One of the highlights of my youth was to go blackberrying.   One Saturday morning in early September in 1914 I set off to one of my secret haunts.  It entailed a walk of three miles or more, but as I journeyed the prevailing mist rolled away to reveal a clear sunny morning and the outstanding beauty of the hedgerows and large wood through which I passed.  Countless spiders’ webs bedecked with beads of moisture sparkling in the sun.  All was so still that the song of the birds echoed everywhere.  I could hear a woodpecker tapping for his breakfast and the flash of colour and the harsh cry of a jay added to my enjoyment.

However, I pushed on to my objective, a rough field with gorse bushes into which the brambles clung covered in beautiful juicy blackberries.  I soon filled my two baskets and left for home with visions of the blackberry and apple pie or pudding which mother would make.  On reaching home I was startled to see a chalk mark of an inverted arrow on the front of the house with a figure 6 below.

A number of volunteers for the army who came from Northumberland were due to be housed in Tring.  As we had a fairly large house the billeting officer had apportioned six to us who were to be housed and fed.  When father came home at mid-day he said that mother was not to have any residents imposed on us due to her indifferent health.  He would go and see her doctor to get exemption.

Mother had asserted that she could cope with two, Dr Brown told father.  However, some of the men were in rather bad “digs”.  Within a fortnight the two we had, had wheedled another two of their pals in and within the month we were up to six.  To give them their due they were so pleased to be with us that they helped in every possible way.  So began mother’s war effort.  The first two thoroughly enjoyed the blackberry and apple pudding!!



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THE DUSTY MILLER IN TIMES OF PEACE
1919-1923

IN THE BEGINNING


I began my working life at the age of 14 years, on the day after Boxing Day in the year 1919, with Herbert Grange and Co., Corn Merchants, who used premises for storage at Grove Farm, Tring, the home of Mr. Herbert Grange, who was known as the ‘Maize King’.  Their main office was at Mark Lane, at the London Corn Exchange, the Tring operations being under a manager, Mr. Walter Glasscock.  I started at the princely sum of ten shilling (50p) per week.  My hours were from 8.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. each weekday, with an hour off for lunch, and from 8.30 a.m. to noon each Saturday.

It was common practice in those days for children to leave school at the age of fourteen, and having reached that point in September, I started looking round for employment.  I had no job in view until I heard at school one day towards the end of the term, that an office boy was required at Grove Farm, and I went there straight from school, without telling my parents.  I had to wait until 5.30 p.m., when the manager returned from Mark Lane, but my perseverance paid off and I got the job.

When I got home, considerably later than usual, and my parents wanted to know where I had been, I explained, and told them about the job.  Father asked: “Do you think you are going to like it?”  I replied that I didn’t know, but if not . . . . Here father cut me short, and said: “Oh no, my boy.  If you start something you have to see it through.”

I asked my mother if I could have a new suit with long trousers as all my mates were wearing.  “You will do no such thing. Your present trousers are perfectly alright for continued wear".  However, I was determined to have my suit with long trousers.  Of the ten shillings wage, seven shillings and sixpence went toward the cost of my ‘keep‘ and two shillings towards the cost of my clothing.  So I went to see Mr. Cross the tailor whose shop was at the comer of Christchurch Road to ask if he would make me a suit for Easter.  I settled for a grey herring bone tweed for the price of five guineas.  I explained my circumstances to him.  By Easter Saturday, I would be able to give him three pounds, but would it be agreeable if I paid him my two shillings and sixpence after that to clear the balance?

I left the office at midday on the Saturday and cycled home with my suit in a brown paper parcel.  “What have you got in that parcel?” my mother wanted to know.  I explained the arrangement for payment to Mr. Cross the tailor.  “You young devil!  I told you that you were not to have a new suit.  I have never yet had anything on tick and I am not going to do so now”.  She flounced upstairs and came back holding two pounds five shillings.  “You go straight back to Mr. Cross with it and have the bill receipted, and you will give me the full ten shillings each week until the balance is paid”.  She kept me strictly to it.

As soon as I was home from Church each Sunday I put the jacket on a chair in the sitting room and donned an old jacket.  My father had a friend who a carpenter, Mark Osborne in Miswell Lane.  I went to him and persuaded him to lend me two lengths of plywood about 30 inches long twelve inches wide.  Every Sunday night when going to bed I lifted up the mattress to lay my trousers underneath to keep the creases in.  It is a sound maxim of life that if something is gained easily the less it is valued, but if self denial and hardship are needed to achieve your object so will you value it, as I did my suit with the long trousers.

The office was a ramshackle building attached to the farm buildings, but I found the work interesting.  There was a constant flow of people in and out, either bringing in grain, or taking out feeding stuffs, or both!  I was required to do a bit of everything, and I can honestly say I was keen on my work, and anxious to learn.

Gradually I became a proficient judge of grain quality, which in those days was judged by natural means − smelling, weighing in the hand, looking for signs of disease, or wild garlic, or smut.  The latter is a fungus, which gives off a noxious smell from the infected grain.  Testing also involved biting the grain, and grasping it in the hand, to assess moisture content.  Today the miller or merchant has highly technical apparatus at his disposal to enable quick and searching tests to be made.

In view of my interest, by the time I was sixteen I was entrusted to call on farmers to sell feeding stuffs and to buy grain.  It was the custom in the trade to secure a sample of any grain for sale on a farm by collecting at least half a pound, taken from at least twelve sacks at random.  By this means you found out if there was an odd sack or two out of condition and reacted accordingly.

The manager kept some fifty or so laying hens at his home, so I was frequently adjured to “Bring a large enough sample, Seymour.”  If the grain was bought, when it was delivered it was matched against the sample, and if all was in order the sample was finished with, and was tipped into a bushel measure in the office, to become the manager’s perks.  In the season he usually took home, in an old Gladstone bag, sufficient corn to feed his hens!

As the farm buildings were in use for storing grain and feeding stuffs, as well as ordinary farming operations, there were always rats about.  Periodically efforts were made to reduce this rat population, and ferrets were used in this.  If the manager was at market, or elsewhere, I found ratting more attractive than office work.  By then we had a younger office boy, and I would alternate shifts with him − one in the office, one outside ratting.

On one occasion the ferrets failed to get the rats to move from under a row of pig sties, so the farm manager decided to test the fire hose, and at the same time flush the rats out with the water.  The farm lads and I waited to deal with them if they ran.  Suddenly five or six bolted at once, and one lad struck at one of them, hitting it over the back.  The rat scrabbled away, and the lad’s second attempt was equally unsuccessful.  One old man watching could contain himself no longer, and exclaimed: “Hit ‘un over the ‘ead boy, the arse’ll die of itself!”

Mr. Grange normally went to Mark Lane, or his London office, every day, but when he was at home cable messages, all in code, would come for him, over the telephone.  In these cases it was my job to go to his private house, get the code book, and decode the message before giving it to him.  I would then be given a reply in longhand by Mr. Grange, which I had to translate into the appropriate code before relaying the answer.

There could be enormous variations in market prices from day to day.  On one occasion I know that Mr. Grange, in his maize dealings, lost £3,000 in one day, when the bottom dropped out of the market.

One day I was told to cycle to a farm some four miles away, to look at some wheat the farmer had for sale.  I was told to bid for it, up to a given limit, according to quality.  The farmer had a very attractive daughter of my age, which delayed me somewhat, but eventually I went into the barn with the farmer, to draw the usual sample, which I put in a bag which would hold up to about 3 pounds in weight.  He watched me filling this with much interest, and then asked: “How did you get here, young ‘un?”  Puzzled, I replied: “On my cycle, sir.”  “That’s a pity,” he said, “For you might as well have taken a sackful!”

Now, it was a cardinal rule that you ascertained the quantity of a parcel of grain by counting the number of sacks but, owing to the fact that the farmer’s daughter had followed us into the barn, I neglected this essential duty!  Then I found that I couldn’t buy the wheat within the limit I had been given, so I set off back to the office with the sample.  The manager looked at it and, of course, asked the quantity.  The startled look on my face told him I didn’t know, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, to “Ruddy well go back and count it now!”

Off I went back to the farm, feeling the biggest fool on earth.  The farmer thought I had gone back to accept his asking price, and I had to explain myself.  Never, in all my subsequent fifty years in the grain trade, did I make that mistake again.  You learnt in a hard school in those days.

At least I drew genuine samples, not like one farmer.  One day a lad brought in a very good sample of barley, and even the manager said he didn’t think he’d seen a better sample.  “I’ve brought it in for me dad, because he’s not well,” said the lad.  “And it ought to be good.  It took me sister three or four hours this morning to pick it out!”

On another occasion I was offered ten hundredweights of ‘swede’ seed.  Feeling pleased with myself I took the sample back for the manager’s inspection, only to be told that I should learn the difference between swede seed and charlock (a weed seed of very similar appearance).

After I had been with Grange’s for nearly five years, my wages had risen to thirty shillings a week, but when I asked for another rise he said he couldn’t afford to pay more.  In any case, I was beginning to feel that I needed to enlarge my knowledge and experience, so I went to see Mr. William N. Mead, at the flour mill at New Mill, with whom I had had contact previously, through selling him wheat.  I asked him if he knew of anyone who would take a young chap who wanted to learn milling.  He told me he would make enquiries and to go back and see him in a week’s time.


An early picture of the Tring Flour Mill.  The windmill was pulled down in 1911.


One week later I returned, and he offered me a job at the mill.  I returned to Grove Farm and immediately handed in a three-week notice.  The usual was one week, but I extended it, with Mr, Mead’s agreement, to enable me to tidy up things.  Upon receiving this notice the manager at once offered me £3.00 a week − double my present thirty shillings − to stay.

“Sorry,” I said, “But it is time you and I parted.  If you couldn’t afford more than thirty shillings last week, but now offer to double it, I don’t want to bankrupt the firm.”  So I left, and he never spoke to me again.

At the mill I found things very different.  Mr. Mead not only owned the mill, but he also farmed extensively, both in Tring, at Silk Mill Farm, and also at Marsworth, at Hospital Farm, sometimes called Manor Farm.  In fact, during hay and harvest times − and on other occasions if necessary − if extra men were required on the farms, he had no hesitation in shutting the mill and taking all the men employed there down to the farms for as long as they were required.  In the mill yard itself, he also ran a retail coal business.


Bushell Bros. boat yard. Tring Flour Mill is in the background.


At the bottom of the mill yard there was a boat building and repair business, for the canal barges, owned by the Bushell Bros.  This business actually continued until after the Second World War.

When I joined the mill staff, there was only one man, other than Mr. Mead himself, in the office.  This was Teddy Clark, who was employed as clerk, cashier and accountant, and he kept the ledgers meticulously, with each name written in beautiful copperplate writing.  There was also a flour traveller, Harold Saunders.  Mr. Mead was always known as ‘the Governor’, and I very soon got the nickname of ‘Chikko’, which came about when I found there were some residues going to waste, and experimented with them, making up some samples of chick corn.  The Governor’s two daughters − who were always about the yard − heard of this, and gave me the name.  I didn’t mind, and it stuck!

For the first fortnight or so I was put into the mill, to learn my way around, and on the first day I was set to lower some empty flour bags from the top floor, where they were then stored (later we had a sack-warehouse).  There were flaps in each floor which could be opened, so that with the aid of a hoist, bundles of bags could be lower right through to the basement.  I soon got the hang of it, and was letting bundles down quite speedily.  Unfortunately, however, one bundle went down a bit too fast, and arrived just as the mill foreman was walking under the open flap and it knocked him sideways.  Although I assured him it was accidental, all the time I knew him I felt he was never certain that it was!

I also put my foot in it early on in my time in the mill office.  In those days phones were in very short supply, and people would come in and ask to use our phone.  The Governor got fed up with this, and told us that if anybody came in to use the phone we were to charge them sixpence for each call, no matter who it was or what the call was for.  With this in mind, when a gentleman came in, in full hunting kit, demanding: “Use your phone, boy!”, I told him to go ahead.  When he put the received down, I asked him for the required sixpence.  “Sixpence! What for?” he demanded.  I explained.  He was furious. “Daylight robbery!” he exclaimed, but he flung sixpence on the desk and stormed out.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the Governor told me I had demanded sixpence from Lord Rosebery, one of his best customers.  I pointed out: “That was your orders, sir.  I only did as I was told.”  That was the last I heard of it!



PRODUCTION OF FLOUR


My initiation into flour production was a complete revelation.  Hitherto I had assumed that a fairly simple grinding process of wheat was involved.  Instead I found it to be a highly skilled and technical operation.

Wheat, according to availability and cost, was shipped in from many countries, all with varying moisture content − as low as 12% in that from India, Russia and the Argentine, to as high as our native wheat at 16%.  Manitoba Wheat from Canada was graded in quality from No.1 to No.4, the latter containing some immature grains.


Mr. and Mrs. Ward, daughter Phoebe and her children from Startops End at the Tring Flour Mills on the Wendover Arm.
They had delivered a cargo of Manitoba wheat.   IRIS was owned by A. Harvey-Taylor of Aylesbury and registered at Tring.


All imported wheats were brought from the London Docks by barge to the canal alongside the mill.  A barge and a ‘butty’ − an engineless trailer − together carried up to 60 tons, in sacks of 250 lbs.  Hoisted from the barges by chain, the contents of the bags were shot into a hopper, from which the wheat was conveyed by elevator cups on an endless belt to the top storey of the mill into holding bins.

Before the actual milling process began wheats were blended into what was called the grist.  The foot of each storage bin had a calibrated release on a ratchet principle so that this could be set and the correct quantity of each wheat released.  All the wheats contained extraneous matter to some extent, so the next process was to remove this by a most exhaustive cleaning process, so that sound grain, free from all impurities, resulted.  By various elevators this was then fed into a washing process, and from there into a screen-meshed whizzer, to remove excess moisture.

The next process was to feed it into a heated container to open the pores of the skin of the wheat, and then on to a cold container to close the pores up again.  The grist was then put into a conditioning bin for 24 hours, with the result that drier grain absorbed moisture from the damper, and a level moisture of about 16% was arrived at, ready for the milling process.

The strongest gluten cells of the grain are towards the outer skin, so the object of the treatment is to scrape them free without breaking up the outer skin.  A series of chilled steel spiral rolls were employed, the first with serrations of four to the inch, the top one of two revolving at a differential speed of 2 to 1, thus opening the grain wide with a shearing action.  The subsequent rolls were serrated progressively less acutely.  The release from these was elevated to the top storey of the mill into a most ingenious machine called a plansifter.  This consisted of an outer wood casing containing no less than 12 sieves, from a coarse wire mesh at the top to a fine one at the bottom.  The whole plansifter was suspended from the ceiling attached to 16 flexible bamboo rods.  Under the bottom was an elliptical weight which, when in motion, afforded a perfect sieving motion.

The releases from this operation were fed back to the roller floor, the coarsest to the second rolls, and according to the grading, to each appropriate roll, and a final pair of smooth rollers.  Meanwhile, the finer separations from the plansifter were fed to the enclosed cylinders inclined at an angle but clothed with coarsely meshed cloth.  The finer release was then fed to the next machine clothed with finer mesh, and the over- tail despatched to the last sequence of the rolls.

The resultant fine release was now actual flour, which was fed to a holding bin, from where it was bagged up by an operative into jute bags weighing 140 lbs. nett. (Nowadays it is packed into 32 kgs. stiff paper bags, or alternatively stored in a glass-lined bin, from which it is loaded into bulk lorries, and at the bakeries blown from the lorries by means of compressed air into the bakers’ bins.)



ONWARD AND UPWARD


Life at the mill was never dull.  On one occasion the Governor fell out with one of the men and told him to go to the office and get his cards.  “I shan’t!” said the man.  “You will!” said the Governor.  “If you don’t know when you’ve got a good man, I know when I’ve got a good boss!” was the reply.  He continued to work for us for some months afterwards, but was eventually sacked.

The Governor was furious with anyone who untied a sack of corn for some reason and left the mouth open.  One day he was passing a stack of corn sacks and noticed someone had left the mouths of three open.  An employee, by the nickname of ‘Choice’, was passing at the time, and was promptly torn off a strip by the Governor.  Choice was innocent of the offence and said: “Look here, Governor, I don’t mind being blamed for what I have done, but I ain’t being told off for what I ain’t done!  Another thing, I’ve been going to ask you for a rise for a long time.  You ain’t paying me enough!”  As I was on the spot I tried to suppress a grin − unsuccessfully.  “How much are we paying Choice, Chikko?” asked the Governor.  “Not enough, sir” I said.  He was a good workman, so recourse to the office secured Choice a rise of five shillings a week.

I began to sell the whole range of animal feeding stuffs needed by farmers.  I also bought grain from them, with the exception of English wheat for milling.  That was definitely the Governor’s province.  That not suitable for milling I could buy, provided I made a profit when selling it on!

To start with my operations were confined to farms within cycling distance, but after two years I bought an AJS motor cycle, which considerably extended my range.  I was, of course, on a salary basis, and had some difficulty in extracting an allowance from the Governor for using my own motor cycle.

After twelve months I became tired of being out in all weathers on the motor cycle, and I tackled the Governor about assisting me to purchase an Austin motor car.  I had by then been employed by him for 5 years, and had successfully developed a thriving animal feeding stuffs business.  I suggested that I could also try to sell flour.  I pointed out to him that the mill was being run uneconomically as it was producing 4 sacks of flour an hour (packed in two half—sacks of 140 lbs. weight) and was running only 8 hours a day, for five days each week.  The solution was to sell more flour!  I would not interfere with the existing flour salesman s customers, but would break fresh ground.

I tried to secure one shilling (5p) per sack commission for all new business, but the Governor would not budge from sixpence per sack (2p).  In 1937, my flour sales were such that the Governor said he could no longer afford the commission of sixpence per sack, but instead would give me a share of the profits.

In 1938 he formed the mill into a private limited company, with 6,500 shares, of which half were issued.  The major number he held for himself, giving 1,000 each to his two daughters.  Six months later, he told me he was giving me 400 shares, but I never drew a dividend, as such.

Competition was really keen.  Sometimes as many as ten travellers from as many millers were calling on one small country baker.  However, in selling you have first to ‘sell’ yourself to the prospective customer.  If your face fits you have then only to prove the quality and competitive price of your goods.



NAMES, NICKNAMES AND YARNS


One of my best farm customers was Dwight‘s Pheasantries of Berkhamsted, then the largest pheasant farm in Europe.  One day Percy Dwight asked me to do him a favour by delivering a few bags of layers mash and mixed corn to a friend of his, a member of the Tyrwhitt Drake family, who kept some hens in his paddock.  Accordingly Bert Heley, one of our lorrymen, was given job of delivery.  He did the job, but came back to the office raving mad!  “I’m not going to deliver to that man again,” he said.  “He was as nice as pie when I stacked the food in the shed − gave me two bob (shillings), and chatted with me.  Then he asked me where I had been to school, and I told him.  He called me a ruddy liar!”


Two of the Governor’s lorrymen with their Sentinel steamer.


Now Bert was born and had gone to school at Eaton Bray, but the locals never called it anything but ‘Eaton’.  It took me some minutes to pacify him, explaining that his Eaton had been mistaken for Eton College.

The abbreviation of place names was quite common practice, often with a long ‘AR’ − so Aston Clinton became ‘Arson’; Drayton Beauchamp was just ‘Drayton’; Long Marston was Marson’, while Hemel Hempstead was shortened to just ‘Hemel’, and Berkhamsted became ‘Berko’, and so on.

Apart from place names being localised, many of the local people had their own personal nicknames, which were often passed from father to son.  Some examples which come to mind are:


‘Sausage’ Harrop; ‘Niddie’ Bradding; ‘Ponny’ French; ‘Wiggle’ Barber; ‘Spivvy’ Budd; ‘Puffy’ Howlett; ‘Totty’ Ives; ‘Packer’ Brooks; ‘Nippy’ Hearn; ‘Dekko’ Budd, and ‘Splash’ Harry. I have already mentioned ‘Stumpy’ Cato, and ‘Bumper’ Eggleton. There was also a family in Tring named Higby, each of whose sons had a nickname — the aforementioned ‘Choice’, ‘Jammy’, ‘Knock’ and ‘Inkerman’.


Some of the names were given for obvious reasons, but many were not!  I once queried how ‘Dekko’ Budd got a name like that.  “I can tell you,” said his sister.  “Because he was always poking his nose into other people‘s business!”

Another man was known as ‘Bent Axle’ − a very cruel nickname, as the man concerned had suffered a broken leg in his youth, which had been improperly set so that it was permanently bent.

There were many local characters, of course, who did not have nicknames.  One was the late Arthur Macdonald Brown.  He always employed a chauffeur to ferry him around − particularly when he visited the Ashridge estate, which for some years he overlooked.  The drill was that he would go in the morning, have a look round, and then break off a midday, to go to the ‘Bridgewater Arms’ for a sandwich and a drink.  His usual chauffeur had retired, and a new one was employed.  On his first day taking Macdonald Brown round the estate, they went to the Bridgewater Arms as usual, where Macdonald Brown turned to the chauffeur and asked: “What about you, Tofield?  You like a drink?”  “I don’t mind if I do, sir,” was the reply.  “Well,” said Macdonald Brown, “I do.  I’d have to damn well pay for it!”  And he never did buy him a drink, during all the nine or ten years that Tofield chauffeured him.

Another local character, who suffered from a heart condition, was notoriously mean.  He always carried a small bottle of brandy on him, in a blue glass bottle.  At that time the law ordained that any liquid of a poisonous nature must be carried in a blue glass bottle, and thus no-one would touch the brandy!  On one occasion, however, while awaiting his turn for a hair cut he felt faint, so took out his brandy bottle, but before he could drink any the barber saw it and knocked the bottle to the floor saying: “No you don’t, you old devil, you ain’t committing suicide here!”  “You foolish, interfering man, you’ve spilt all my brandy,” stormed the man, as evidence of which the bottle was in fragments, and a lovely aroma of brandy filled the saloon.

Another character, by the name of Charlie, is worth a mention.  He had a lovely turn of phrase.  On one occasion he went to a local butcher and asked for a pig’s head.  “Alright, Charlie,” said the butcher.  “I shall be slaughtering on Tuesday, so if you come in on Wednesday I shall be able to fit you up.”  So on Wednesday Charlie arrived at the shop and the butcher got his carving knife poised.  “Now then, Charlie, how far shall I go back?” he asked.  “As near the arse as you likes, boy,” he was told.

One day Charlie came into the office, and was asked how things were going on.  “Well,” he said, “I’ve got a touch of financial cramp!”



THE MEAD CLAN


The Governor had an uncle who lived in a large house in Station Road, Tring, which had an adjoining paddock and stable.  He employed a coachman-cum-gardener, who drove him around in an open carriage.  The pony was getting on in years, and if it became a bit sluggish the old man would call out to the coachman: “Touch him up, John.  Touch him up!”

One Christmas all the relatives gathered together, as usual, for a party, and a game of charades ensued.  My Governor, always fond of a leg pull, enlisted the help of an accomplice as coachman, and went into the drawing room mimicking his uncle, calling: “Touch him up, John!”  Unfortunately the joke misfired, and the old man took umbrage.  Shortly afterwards he altered his will and struck the Governor’s name off.  In consequence that game of charades cost him £12,000.

The same man was not exactly generous minded, and once, when two workmen were making alterations and repairs in one of the bedrooms, put a sovereign coin under the carpet where he knew they would see it.  The next day the workmen asked him to come to the bedroom to give his instructions about the work to be done, and when he did so, they lifted up the edge of the carpet to display his pound coin nailed down securely to the floor boards, saying: “We thought you’d like to know where to find it another day!”

Another nephew of the old man, named Percy Mead, farmed locally, and worshipped at New Mill Baptist Chapel.  At that time a new tenant came to Dunsley Farm, Tring, and the two became friendly.  As the incoming farmer was short of hay and straw until the next harvest, Percy supplied him with sufficient of both to last some time.  Unfortunately the new man was also short of capital, and no money was forthcoming for two or three months, so Percy sent him a postcard with just a biblical text on.  In response he also received a postcard with a biblical text on.

Percy’s card read: “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” (St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 26, Verse 35).  The response was: “have patience, friend, and I will pay thee all.” (St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 19, Verse 29).

Percy had one particular field in which he grew delicious white turnips, and his new friend, in due season, was supplied with some.  Then there was a rift in the friendship, so no more turnips.  One day, Percy saw his erstwhile friend climbing over his field gate, having helped himself to some.  Percy later went to his brother-in-law, R. Sallery, a butcher in Tring, and bought two breasts of lamb.  He gave one of the butcher boys sixpence and sent him up to Dunsley Farm with the strict instructions to say they were sent with the compliments of Mr. Percy Mead, to go with the turnips he had stolen.

My Governor and Percy were brothers, but they loved to ‘take the mickey’ out of one another.  Percy was tenant of some ground below the mill, owned by the local council, as part of the sewage works, where an open irrigation system was employed.  From time to time sewerage liquor was directed over the ground in rotation.  Consequently Percy was always able to grow exceptionally large mangel wurzels there, and each October he would invariably search for two of the largest specimens and place them, one on either side of the door to the mill office, much to the Governor’s chagrin.


The Governor, William Mead.


While on a Mediterranean cruise one year, the Governor met a member of the seed family of Cundy, who were introducing a new strain of mangel called, I believe, Red Chief, so some of the seed was ordered, and in due course arrived.  “Now then, Chikko,” asked the Governor of me, “How can we grow some of these to match brother Percy?”  “As much farmyard manure as you can plough in, together with half a ton of I.C.I. No.1 complete fertilizer to the acre,” was my advice.  “You’ll ruin the Bank of England!” he said.  “Alright, then, just treat one acre, and see how it works,” I suggested.  This was done.

October arrived, and eventually the Governor brought up two large red mangels, placing them one on either side of the office door, where Percy would see them.  When he did, Percy said scathingly: “What have you got there, beetroot?”

“No,” replied the Governor, “Radish!”

“If I couldn’t grow better mangels than them, I’d give up trying.  I’ll show you what mangels should be like,” said Percy, disappearing.  A few minutes later he was back in the yard.  Taking two yellow mangels out of his car, and putting on an act of puffing and staggering, he put them alongside the two reds.  They were certainly slightly larger than the Governor’s.  “That’s what I call mangels,” said Percy with glee.  “They’re as hollow as your head is,” said the Governor.  Striving to keep the peace between this now personal confrontation, I said: “We can soon prove it, sir,” and fetched an old cutlass, which hung on a wall in what we called the tin officer although it was actually the coal office.

“Shall I split them in half, or will you?” I asked the Governor.  “I will,” he said, and gave one of his a hefty swipe with the cutlass, revealing a perfectly ringed, solid root.  When Percy sliced his, there was a hole as big as a tennis ball in the centre.  “What did I tell you?” crowed the Governor.  Percy turned on his heel and shot off in his car as if the devil had kicked him endways!  We saw nothing of him for some days, although it was his normal custom to call on us nearly every day.  That night I asked the Governor for a rise, and got it!

Mind you, if the Governor wanted something, or something done, he went all out for it, and not always in the most obvious way!  Due to his strong connections with Marsworth he used to attend the parish church there.  It so happened that the vicar at Marsworth retired, and there was a long interregnum, so much so that the Governor got very cross about it.  Despite making application on more than one occasion to the Bishop of Oxford, nothing happened.  His patience beings exhausted, the Governor had an advertisement placed in the Bucks Herald, which read: “Wanted.  Shepherd for an unruly flock of about 300 head.  Apply in the first instance to William N. Mead, Gamnel Mill House.”  Of course, one or two genuine shepherds applied, but the Governor told them they were not quite suitable.  He reimbursed them, and made sure they were not out of pocket.  The whole affair caused so much fun and ridicule, however, that an appointment was made within a bew weeks of the advertisement appearing.

This was typical, and Percy was just as bad!  On the outskirts of Tring at the junction of the old A41, Brook Street and Station Road,  was a wide Y-shaped area.  Percy Mead badgered the Tring Urban District councillors to have a traffic island erected there with ‘Keep Left’ bollards to alleviate an obvious potential traffic hazard, but neither the local council nor the County Council was interested.  Thus, every day except Sunday and for some weeks Percy planted a large empty pickled onion jar in the centre of this space, which he filled with wild flowers or flowering shrubs.  As fast as one jar was removed he replaced it.  The resulting amusement and publicity had the desired effect and eventually a traffic island was placed there for the safety of all concerned.



RECOLLECTIONS OF FARMERS


Percy drove a succession of old ‘bangers’, one of which was an Austin 12 Tourer.  The glass windscreen of this had been broken, so he replaced half the depth of the screen with a piece of plywood, leaving the other half open to the elements.  Anything from dogs to pigs were carried in this car, covered, if necessary, by a pig net.

One day he brought some store pigs for sale to Aylesbury Market and after penning them went to the auctioneer’s office to book them in.  On returning to the car he saw a young policeman looking at the licence disc stuck to his ‘windscreen’, which was obviously out of date.  He promptly sauntered down to his pen of pigs and surreptitiously undid the gate, letting them loose in the yard and immediately creating a hullabaloo.  Several people rushed to help including the young ‘bobby’.  Seeing him safely occupied Percy drove his car away.  Some minutes later he drove into the market again grinning all over his face, having been to the adjacent county office to secure a new licence disc.

On another occasion at Aylesbury Market, two farmers were in conversation, one of whom owed the Mill for feeding stuffs.  I approached them.  “I suppose you want some money, young ‘un,” said the man.  “Yes, sir, if you please,” I replied.  Before my man could answer his companion spoke up:  “I never owe money.  I pay as I go along” he said, to which the other replied: “I owe the corn merchant, the vet, and the implement blokes.  You want to do the same, you get better service that way.”  “Good Lord, Jim,” said his friend, “It would worry me to death if I owed money like that.”  “Ah!” was the response, “That’s where you make a mistake.  It’s the folks as I owe it to does the worrying!”

On market day many farmers would stay the whole day at the “Rose & Crown”, or the “Robin Hood”.  On one occasion this was the case with Bill, who came from a farm a few miles out of the town.  At about 7 p.m. a man called at the farm to see him about some business, and his wife explained and told the man where her husband could be found.  She asked if he was going home through Tring and when he said he could, she said she would go with him and find her husband.  As they got to the “Rose & Crown”, a pal of Bill’s was looking out of the taproom window, and exclaimed: “Bill!  There’s your missus just getting out of Thorpe’s trap and is coming in!”  “Oh is she,” said Bill, and as she went into the saloon bar to ask for him, he went out of the other door and, unhitching his pony, set off under the arch.  She saw him and came running out.

“I’ve come to fetch you back home,” she called.  “Have you?” said Bill.  “How did you get here?”  “Mr.Thorpe brought me.  He wanted to see you about some business,” she explained, “But I’ll come home with you.”  “You won’t,” said Bill.  “He brought you in, he can take you back” and off he drove.  Mr. Thorpe, however, had decided against doing any business with Bill that evening and had driven home.  She was left standing and had to get a taxicab to take her back to the farm!

Milk was retailed in those days by farmers calling round to the houses, often with a can holding 2 or 3 gallons, and it was measured out into the customers’ own jugs.  It had to conform to a certain standard, but it was not at all unknown for water to be added before being sold, and inspectors went round periodically to check for this.  One farmer was going round New Mill with his churn of milk for sale when he saw an inspector coming and promptly ‘tripped over a straw’, and spilt all his milk onto the ground, thus preventing the inspector from taking a sample.

A farmer friend of mine hunted once or twice a week, and he used to use his cattle truck as a horse box.  A neighbouring gentleman farmer − a member of Lloyds − one day asked if, instead of hacking to the meet, he could put his horse into Norman’s lorry, to which Norman agreed.  This arrangement went on for some two seasons, but no offer was made towards the cost of petrol, or anything, and eventually Norman dropped a small hint.  “Ah,” said the Lloyd’s man, “I’m going to America next week, Norman.  I’ll bring you back some cigars.” When he came back he duly presented Norman with his cigars − two single King Edwards.  I don’t think Norman’s remarks were printable!

Many years later, after the war, we had a terrific tornado one Sunday evening.  It caused extensive local damage, ripping off roofs including that of the school at Aston Clinton.  It brought down countless telephone wires, trees, etc., and lifted portable sheds and buildings, blowing them away like toys.  Naturally, it was a fruitful source of conversation for some time as people related their own experiences of it.  Discussing the damage with a small farmer with whom I did business at Aylesbury Market, I asked: “How did you fare on Sunday, Frank?”  “Frit me to death,” he said.  “I was in the milking shed and I thought the end of the world had come, so I went inside and made me will.”  When I asked what blooming good that would have been, he looked at me for a minute and then said: “Never thought of that, chap!”

The easiest ‘draw’ I ever made was not on the customer’s premises, or at market, but was the outcome of a chance meeting with a farmer who was ‘in our ribs’, who attended a dinner where I was present.  During the lull between the dinner and the speeches and the entertainment, we had to queue for the ‘Gents’, and he chanced to be immediately in front of me.  Glancing round he said: “Hallo, how are you?” to which I replied “Still waiting.”  “Is that meant to be funny?” he asked.  “Could be,” I responded.  On the following Monday morning I received a cheque for £500 ‘on account’.

By this time I had established a general corn merchandising business in addition to selling flour.  Normally I attended Thame cattle market each Tuesday and Aylesbury cattle market every Wednesday and Saturday, both to sell feeding stuffs and to buy English wheat and barley.  I was now permitted to buy wheat suitable for our own milling and barley for barley meal; this we ground ourselves, for which purpose we ran three pairs of mill stones.  Choice Higby was in charge of these and was a skilled dresser for them.  The lower stone was the bedstone and the upper one rotated more quickly.  The barley − or sometimes oats or maize − was fed into the eye of the stones.  The resulting meal was caught in a hopper underneath and then channelled into a sack hooked onto the delivery spout.


Millstone


The dressing was varied for different pairs of stones.  When they became dull in use, they had to be lifted out by Morris lifting tackle, for they weighed several hundredweights each.  They were then laid horizontally and new faces were then chipped into  them using a mill ‘hammer’.  Because they were of extremely hard granite, the mill hammer had hard chilled steel chisel blades, locked into a wooden handle.  By much hard work, Choice would chip diagonal crisscross furrows, which were expertly inclined to feed the meal to the outside of the stones.  He had to wear goggles while doing the work, for little specks of stone and sparks would fly off as he chipped.
 

A stone dresser using a 'mill bill'

One particular farmer was a very good customer for barley meal, as he kept pigs.  Normally I did business with him at Aylesbury market.  If making a journey locally, or taking the missus for a ride, it was his custom to attach to the back of his car an empty trailer with a pig net, so he could call on possible sources of store pigs (young pigs bought for fattening to porkers).  He phoned me one Saturday morning before I went to the market to say he wouldn’t see me there that week.  He explained that his wife had been unwell and had been away for some ten days, and he was going to fetch her back over the weekend.  Foolishly I said: “I suppose you’ll take your trailer and pig net?”  The rejoinder came smartly.  “Why, did you want to come?”



PRANKS BY THE GOVERNOR’S DAUGHTERS


By this time I had bought my first car, a Baby Austin.  I can still remember the registration number − PP 9154.  It had celluloid side curtains and a collapsible hood, and was my pride and joy.  I took delivery from a local garage early one morning, but alas for the shining paintwork pouring rain set in, so I drove it into one of the empty lorry sheds at the mill and closed the door.

When I went to go home, the engine refused to start.  Soon I had several of the men around offering all sorts of suggestions and help.  Then to my consternation and chagrin and amid much ribald laughter I saw the Governor’s two daughters, who were on holiday from school, arriving with one of the mill horses together with chains.  “Are you in trouble, Chikko?” they asked.  “We’ll help and give you a tow.”  I put as good a face as possible on it, amid the general amusement, and soon spotted the trouble.  While I had been busy in the office the girls had gone into the shed and altered the sparking plug leads.

The Governor had only the two girls.  Both attended Roedean School, which they hated.  They were never happier than when riding, hunting, or attending to the various dogs of which there were several, ranging from a small terrier to two old English sheep dogs.  They were close together in age and not much younger than myself.  When they were on school holiday and, indeed, when they came home permanently, there was a constant battle of wits between us.  One dark evening I started the engine of my car, engaged the clutch and first gear to move off, but the engine just ‘revved’.  They had lodged the back axle of the car on two bricks with the back wheels just off the ground.  Another time they stuffed up the exhaust pipe with cotton wool!

One April, on April Fools Day, I found amongst the post, which I usually opened, a typewritten envelope, stamped and franked, addressed to me.  This was not at all unusual, as some customers invariably sent mail directed to me.  Unfortunately for the girls, however, I spotted that this particular envelope had a cypher out of alignment, just as our office typewriter had!  Writing on the outside: “Not known at this address.  Try schoolgirl seminary,” I entrusted it to the Governor to take it to the house when he went up for breakfast.  I learnt afterwards from Mrs. Mead that he took delight in taking it to them.  “You’ll have to get up earlier in the morning to catch Chikko!” he told them.

A fall of snow always spelt danger if I crossed the mill yard.  One day I caught Vera, the younger daughter, unawares, and got in a lovely shot with a snowball.  Her father, who had seen it, laughed his head off, but Vera was so annoyed at being caught napping that she hit him with one full-faced.

The next day, however, the girls had the laugh on me.  Opposite the office was a flat-roofed part of the warehouse to which one door from the main mill building gave access.  Noticing them coming down the yard I nipped out there and from my vantage point lobbed snowballs at them, scoring two direct hits before they realised from where the snowballs were coming.  They quickly took cover out of sight and I waited for them to reappear, but the next thing I heard was the bolt of the access door being pushed home!  There I was, marooned on the flat roof in the snow!  Then from a safe distance they barracked: “Shall we let your mother know you’ll be late home?”



RECOLLECTIONS OF BILL MEAD


The Governor kept pigs in the mill yard and also a boar, and a charge of five shillings was made to local pig keepers if their sow was serviced by this boar.  This money was the Governor’s perks and was usually placed on one particular spot on the office desk.  Sometimes there would be ten or fifteen shillings lying there for days before he took it.

Coming back from the bank one day, the man responsible for the accounts, etc., threw down two halves of a dud half-crown, demanding two shillings and sixpence in lieu.  Naturally he chose me, as being the junior of the three of us in the office, but I refused to accept that I had taken it from a customer.  It could have been he himself, or the flour traveller.  The next day he spotted another dud, when the flour traveller paid in his cash.  I had a brainwave.  “Slip it in among the Governor’s pile” I suggested.  “He shouldn’t have left his money lying about!”  Two days later yet another dud received the same exchange operation.  That same night the Governor came into the office and, pocketing the pile of money on the desk, remarked “They tell me there’s some dud half-crowns about. “  He was no fool and probably had a very good idea what we had done, but we heard no more about it!

At hay time and harvest customers had to take second place to the needs of the farm.  On one occasion the mill was stopped at midday, and every man and every available vehicle was commandeered for ‘carting’.  On another such occasion I came up against it.  A local farm tenancy had just changed and on my rounds I obtained a good order from the new man, but the goods had to be delivered, without fail, on the Wednesday.  The customer was also a butcher, whose shop was closed on Wednesdays, so that was the only day he could be at the farm to accept the goods.

I got back from market on that day, only to find that four of the lorry men were down at the farm, leaving only one lorry without a driver in the yard, and the order for Buckland had not been delivered.  I was furious.  The Governor himself was just off to the farm when I accosted him.  “I promised that man his stuff today and he’ll have it, even if I have to take it myself, single-handed!”  I stormed off and was in the driving seat of the remaining lorry like a jack rabbit.  I backed it against the loading bay and went into the warehouse to find a man to truck the stuff to the bay for me to load.

There was a dispersal sale at Aston Clinton of the effects of the late Lady Bathurst, a member of the Rothschild family, and the Governor went along.  He bought some beautifully carved glazed mahogany doors from a summerhouse and had them installed as French doors in the drawing room of the Mill House, where, as far as I know they remain.  He also bought, complete, a very large, ornamental fountain.  It had a central column of water rising some ten feet into the air, which fell into the large surrounding basin.  Around the inner circumference of this basin were eight stone frogs, all of which also spouted water into the basin.  The whole thing amounted to a miniature bathing pool.  This the Governor had installed in his garden and when it was up and running, he held a garden party to ‘christen the new fountain’.  It was a very warm July day, and with the office windows all open we could hear the talk and much laughter.

Now it so happened that the Governor let the farmhouse where farmed in Marsworth.  He and the most recent tenant had ‘had a few words’ over a few points in the tenancy about which they couldn’t agree, and the Governor was very annoyed about it.  This tenant was a guest at the party, and we in the office had a fair idea that something would happen.  Sure enough, all at once we heard a shriek and a yell.  The Governor had ‘accidentally’ stumbled against his dissatisfied tenant and had pitched him head-first into the fountain!  Of course the Governor, with his tongue in his cheek, was full of apologies.  He sent the man into the house, found him a suit of his own clothes, which fitted, and even gave him a bottle of champagne to take home — but he had got his own back about the difficulty with the tenancy!  I should add that many years later, after the death of the Meads, when I was living in the Mill House both my daughters learnt to swim in this fountain!

Shortly after the fountain was installed, the old premises of the Mark Lane Corn Exchange were replaced and a sale of effects from the old building was held.  Among the items put up for sale was the lovely coat of arms from the top of the old building, which the Governor bought amidst much chaff and leg pulling from his pals on the market, who said he must be crackers to buy such a thing.

It was a massive piece of stone, weighing at least a ton, on which was sculpted a coat of arms comprising an English rose, a Scotch thistle and a Welsh leek with sheaves of corn, on each side of which was a lion and a unicorn.  The Governor, of course, had to arrange his own transport for his purchase, so at about 2 a.m. one morning he set off with two or three of the men in the firm’s Napier lorry, into which they had loaded some Morris lifting gear.  The loading safely accomplished, they made for home, having put a tarpaulin over the coat of arms.  Unfortunately, however, they hadn’t covered it properly and they were stopped twice by wide-awake policemen who thought that the statue of Eros, or something similar was being pinched!  They eventually got it home and it was installed behind the fountain to form an effective backdrop, and there it remained for many years.  It was lucky to do so, because when the new Corn Exchange building was nearing completion a search was made for the coat of arms to be placed on the top.  It should never have been sold!

Unfortunately, the man who was deputed to approach the Governor to try to recover it was one of those who had ragged him unmercifully over the purchase, and his answer was: “No.  If I was crackers enough to buy the thing, I’m crackers enough to keep it!”  And he did!  When enlargement of the mill premises became necessary some years ago, some of the mill garden was taken away, and the coat of arms had to be moved.  It now stands at the road frontage at New Mill for all to see.

At the Mill House, in addition to his flower garden, the Governor had a large walled garden and a range of greenhouses for which he employed three gardeners. One of the greenhouses was used for grapes which, when harvested, were luscious.  He was always very generous and if one of his employees or a friend was ill, they would receive a gift of grapes if in season, or of flowers.

The entrance lobby and the hall of the Mill House were always filled with a lovely display of pot plants, and cut flowers were always in the lounge.  On the occasion of the Bucks Farmer’s Ball, held annually at the Aylesbury Town Hall, he provided all the pot plants etc., for decoration.  On the afternoon of the ball he would appropriate one of the mill lorries − often disrupting deliveries of flour or feeding stuffs − and together with his gardeners would go to the hall to arrange the display.  Then the following morning the lorry was sent to bring them back.

When dressed for a visit to Mark Lane, or any special occasion, the Governor always sported a colourful buttonhole.  Visitors to the mill or house would invariably receive a present of a pot plant, cut flowers or grapes.  On the other hand he was intolerant of anyone who blatantly cadged things.  One of his specialities was sweet peas, which he grew from Dobbies.  One man, who was noted for his parsimony despite being quite wealthy, enthused to the Governor about the blooms.  “When you order your seed, William, I would be delighted if you would order some for me,” he said, obviously with no thought of payment.  In the spring, he duly received an envelope containing ‘Pea seed, with the Complements of Bill Mead’.  His gardener, a most gentle man, for whom I felt sorry, tended them with great care.  Alas, when the outcome was small mauve flowers, the product of wild hedgerow peas, or ‘tares.’  Naturally, the news leaked out and the general comment was: “Serve the mean old devil right!”  I should add that the Governor sent a bottle of Scotch to the unfortunate gardener.

The Governor went down to the Marsworth farm one morning, getting a lift with our traveller, who was going by, and it was arranged that a lad from the garden was to go, with the pony cart, to fetch him back later.  However, things went wrong and Proctor, the lad who should have fetched him back, had not gone down as instructed.  When the phone rang, I answered it.  “Who’s that?” snapped the Governor.  “Seymour,” I identified myself.  “You seen young George Proctor?” he asked.  “Yes,” I said, “He was over in the garden picking raspberries when I saw him.”  “Well, go and see if he’s alive or dead,” instructed the Governor.  “If he’s alive, send him down here to fetch me home!”  “What shall I do if he’s dead?” I asked, playing along.  “Bury him!” he said, and slammed down the phone.  The Governor got the better of that one!

The Governor went up to Mark Lane once or twice a week.  The chauffeur would take him to Tring Station to catch either the half-past nine or the 10 o’clock train.  As soon as he had gone out of the yard, especially during the winter, there would be two or three men in the engine house where it was lovely and warm.  I was in there one morning checking on the oil stocks when one of the men from the greenhouse − where it was rather cold! − peered round the door.  “Has he gone, Dave?” he asked the engineer.  “You must know he has,” replied Dave, “Else you wouldn’t be down here!”

Another time when the Governor was due to go to Mark Lane for some reason he failed to do so.  At the time we wanted some ‘Fancy Plate Middlings’ (the trade name), and when he next went to London I reminded him that we needed them urgently, as we were getting desperately short.  I don’t know what happened, but he didn’t buy them, and on the following day when asked, he said he would ring up immediately.  However, when he rang he found the price had risen by ten shillings per ton, a deuce of a rise at that time.  “Can’t buy them at that price,” he said.  “I wonder if Alfred Thorn (another dealer) has any at Stanbridgeford Station,” I suggested.  “That’s an idea,” said the Governor.  “He’ll be at home today, he doesn’t go to Mark Lane on a Friday.”  So Bill Head rang Alfred Thorn at his home address and found that he had eight truck loads at the station, which were on demurrage.  The Governor was very reluctant.  No, he couldn’t possibly do with eight truck loads.  What could he do with eight truck loads?  And so on − but he eventually bought them at a very good price, of course!  When I opened the post in the office the next morning there was a sale note from Alfred Thorn, together with a letter, which read: “Dear Bill.  I enclose the sale note for the Fancy Plates.  For once you caught the weasel asleep, but, by God, you watch your step on the next deal we do!” As you can see, I learnt a lot from the Governor and later on I put it to good use.

During the war when foodstuffs were rationed, stockfeed potatoes were exempt.  I met a Ministry of Food man who had some to sell, so I bought 50 tons.  When I got back to the office I told the Governor.  “They cost two pounds ten shillings a ton,” I said.  “Do you want any for the farm?”  “No,” was his reply.  “You bought ‘em.  You sell ‘em!”  This was red rag to a bull and before I went home that night I had indeed sold them.  The next morning the Governor came to me and said: “Those stockfeed potatoes.  I don’t mind trying a ton of them.”  “I’m sorry, sir, you’re too late!” I had great pleasure in telling him.  Other people knew the value of them and I sold them all last night, before I went home.”  If you got the better of him he’d put his hand over his nose, and he did so then, and went out of the office grinning all over his face.

One job the Governor liked to do himself was to resurface the mill yard each spring.  He was as happy as a sand-boy.  A barrel of tar would be bought from the gas company [Ed. The Tring Gas Light & Coke Company] and some placed in an old copper under which a fire was lit.  When the tar was brought to the required runny state, it was ladled into a watering can with a rose attached.  The Governor loved to do the actual spraying of the tar himself.  His mate − an old employee, who had worked there all his life, and was known as ‘Old Bodd’ − covered the tar with shingle.  I happened to pass by on one occasion when this job was in progress and Old Bodd had got a bit behind with the shingling.  “Now then Bodd, wake up and put a move on,” ordered the Governor.  Bodd turned and faced him, saying: “You’re just like your old man afore ye, but you won’t frighten me!”  To which the Governor parried: “Need a charge of gunpowder up your backside to make you move!”, but he was grinning at the same time.

The Governor smoked, but not until after 6 o’clock in the evening.  However, he usually kept a box of cigarettes in his private office.  While on a sea cruise one year he won 1,000 ‘State Express’ cigarettes, which were packed in boxes of 25.  Having recourse to his office one day after his return, I saw a box of these with the lid open, so I thought I would try one.  Both his daughters smoked and they had had the same idea, for going into his office a few days later I saw that the lid of the box was still open, but written on it, in red ink, was ‘Be ’LELIENT’ with me’.  Spelling was not the Governor’s strong point!  This spelling of ‘lenient’ was typical.  He insisted on spelling haulage as ‘hawlidge’, but he had beautiful handwriting, having been a scholar of the same master, at a private school, who had taught Teddy Clarke, who kept our ledgers, etc.  However, he persisted in using old spike wire holders for receipts, until one day, a receipt the Governor wanted could not be found quickly.  Teddy asked me to wade through the ‘files’ − I was, of course, very much junior to him then − but I refused, despite his threatening to haul me before the Governor.

Shortly afterwards, during his annual holiday, I persuaded the Governor to buy a complete set of box files from Ryman’s, the stationers.  Sparks flew on his return, but within a week or two he became reconciled to using them, and would demonstrate to admiring visiting farmers how up to date we were!

Both Teddy Clarke, and the other man employed in the office at that time, Harold Sanders, the ‘traveller’, as he was known, were active members of the Tring Park Cricket Club.  Teddy was quite a good spin bowler, and Harold a proficient batsman, so much so that on two separate occasions he hit a six, which travelled over Station Road and broke a pane of glass in a window of ‘The Laurels’, a large house standing well back from the road, a feat that to my knowledge has not since been equalled.

There was never any difficulty in raising a team when the club paid their annual visit to Ascott House, Wing, owned by the Rothschild family, where they were royally entertained before the match with a champagne lunch, with fresh salmon and strawberries and cream.

The cricket club is still active and plays on the original ground presented to it by the Rothschild family.  The Rothschild family also held the sporting rights to the chain of reservoirs owned by the Grand Union Canal Company, employing water bailiffs to superintend fishing activities.  At one time, permits to fish could be obtained free for bank fishing, but from about 1918 a charge was made, and for the use of the punts that were available on each of the fours waters.

Until about 1930, wild duck were encouraged to breed and about a ton of feeding stuffs, such as maize, was used each season to persuade the wildfowl to come and stay.  Hides made of reeds were erected on the causeway at Wilstone reservoir and on the right of way between Marsworth and Startops waters.  Shoots were arranged during the season and quite often royalty was present.  Many local men were employed ‘beating’ the reeds to keep the duck on the move and over the guns.  There was usually a break for lunch at the Shooting Lodge in which the guests received lavish hospitality while the beaters received more mundane bread and cheese, and beer.


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OF FAMILY, HOUSES AND GARDENING
1923-1939


When I was nineteen I became engaged to be married to a very attractive young lady from a nearby village, but sometime later, after much heart searching, I broke it off, because she had become very possessive of my leisure time.  It was a most difficult decision to make, and for some time afterwards I felt that many people thought me a first class cad.  I was very young!

My father received no official holiday, and some time after my engagement was broken, I decided to take him and my mother away for a long weekend.  Setting off in my little Austin 7 on the Friday, we journeyed down to Bournemouth.  To my delight, three young ladies from Leicester were staying in the same boarding house, and in consequence, I fear I left mother and father rather to their own devices!

On the Saturday evening I accompanied them to the bandstand for a concert, but catching sight of the ladies walking along the promenade, I slipped away.  Apparently, a few minutes later, father asked mother: “Where’s Ralph gone?”  “You might know,” replied mother.  “What would you have done at his age, with three girls in the offing?”

The parents of the girl who later became my wife had returned home on the Saturday, leaving the three girls for a second week, so I became their attendant until departing for home on the Tuesday, after having exchanged addresses.  After reaching home I got out my maps, only to hear the ingenious question from my mother: “Are you working out a route to Leicester?”

On the following Saturday week, for the first time, I journeyed up to Cliffe House, attached to Cliffe Farm, Birstall, to call on Muriel and her parents.  I put up at The Bell Hotel, Leicester, that the first time, and also on my two subsequent visits, after which I was invited to stay at the house.  For the next three years, the period of our courtship, I travelled up to Leicester most weekends, through every sort of weather, until our wedding day, which was 17th September, 1932.  We were married in the Methodist church, Birstall.

Later in the day, at the Midland Station, en route to Bournemouth, where we were to spend our honeymoon, we bought three copies of the Leicester Mercury, in which was an account of our wedding, illustrated with photographs, and captioned: “Well known farmer’s daughter marries.”  The Leicester Mercury newspaper is still published, and is well known.

We arrived at Bournemouth very late, as the railway companies (long before they were nationalised and became British Rail) had altered train schedules that day to the winter timetables, so that we were an hour or so later leaving than we should have been.  We had both been showered with confetti, so I suggested to my bride that she should go into the bathroom first and undress while standing on a copy of the Mercury, so that she could fold it up, trapping the confetti, and I would do the same afterwards, with the second copy of the newspaper.  It all worked very successfully.

The following morning, Sunday, we went down to the beach, found two deck chairs, and then, taking one of the folded papers, I went to an adjacent rubbish bin and very carefully unfolded it so that the confetti would slide down into the bin.  Alas, a sudden gust of wind blew it back all over me, to the amusement of the onlookers.  I was even more careful unfolding the second newspaper, but the damage was already done.

Of course, from the first day everyone in the boarding house knew we were on honeymoon.  Two elderly ladies staying there at the time kept in touch with us for many years, sending Christmas cards, and the occasional letter.

My father-in-law had offered, as an outright gift, to have a house built for us in Tring, but I − I hope politely − refused his offer.  I did, however, agree for him to advance the money, on the understanding that I would pay him back as soon as I could.  I explained that I had always had to stand on my own feet, and I felt that my way was right, a point which he reluctantly accepted.  For some four years I did repay him in instalments, but in the meantime our elder daughter had been born, and my wife became pregnant with our second child, another daughter.

Father and mother-in-law came to stay with us for a week, which they often did, leaving their son Ralph to attend to their farms.  On my presenting father-in-law with a further cheque on the Sunday, he tore it up in front of me, and heatedly told me: “You are a ‘dowel’ (funny chap).  It’s your stinking independent pride that’s wrong with you.  You should think of your wife as well.  With two children, you’ll need every penny to provide for them and Muriel.  I don’t want her to pinch and scrape, even if you do!”

By this time I had formed a great affection for him, and felt he was justified in his remarks, and it would be ungracious to refuse.  Consequently the house deeds were handed over, in the joint names of my wife and myself.  I was getting £5 per week when we married in 1932.  The ground, a third of an acre in Grove Road, cost £100, and the contract for the dwelling was just over £900.  However, I employed a skilled, practical man to superintend every stage of the building, and he recommended one or two improvements to the original plans, and the final figure was just over £1,000.

We named the house ‘St. Maur’ − the original of the name ‘Seymour.”  We lived there for some 13 years, before leaving to live at the Mill House.  We sold for £2,850.  It was resold in 1976 for £27,500.  The middle-aged couple to whom we sold were retired Baptist missionaries.  They renamed the house ‘Symota’, which intrigued me.  They came to dinner at the Mill House one evening, and I asked Mr. Thorn from where the name derived.  “I thought you were a good churchman,” he replied.  “Colossians, chapter 3, verse 2.”  After they left I got out my Bible and found that the full text was: “Set Your Mind On Things Above” − so ‘Symota’.

The present occupiers, learning of my original occupancy, asked me about the name, and they were so amused that they retained it, and it is still called by this intriguing name today.

While we were still at this house, unfortunately my father-in-law died, at the early age of sixty.  His wife, Nellie, survived him for a few years only.  They had been such a devoted couple that she gradually pined away.  I could not have had better in-laws.  They were staunch Methodists, and he was the most humble and generous of men.  He donated the ground on which the new Methodist Church at Birstall was built, and also donated generously towards the building itself, as a memorial block in the church, inscribed: ‘WILLIAM HORACE HALLAM’ bears witness.

Having lived at the Gamnel Mill House since 1945, in preparation for retirement, my wife and I bought a house in Grove Park, one of the post-war estates off Grove Road, not too far from where we had started our married life.  It was in a nice position, and had a garden, so I was able to continue my gardening activities, when other commitments permitted.  I always found gardening very mentally relaxing.



GARDENING EXPERIENCES


As a youngster, I had to take my share, with my father, in the chores of gardening.  I have never regretted the schooling I had by him, and throughout my life I have enjoyed gardening, most years managing to produce enough vegetables to be self supporting, and producing sufficient flowers for the house − unfortunately not during the winter months, as I have never had a greenhouse.  Paradoxically, although gardening can be hard work, I always found it a great help in relaxing, and in times of great stress in the business, or later when wrestling in preparing sermons, I often had recourse to it and became so absorbed that I forgot my worries and cares accordingly.

Of course, having browsed through countless seed catalogues, etc., before ordering, and having visions of superb vegetables, and a glorious show of flowers, I never achieved the perfection for which I strove.  There are so many hazards with which to cope − inclement weather, and innumerable pests, to name but two − that it was a constant battle.

Naturally impatient, I learnt from bitter experience never to sow seed when conditions were unfavourable, for the time always came when sowing could be done, and if it was a late spring, somehow nature always caught up, to ensure harvest arrived at more or less the customary time.  Obviously, however, if, through your own oversight, you failed to sow within the time range, the results were seldom satisfactory.  Another lesson I learnt was not to try to grow species or varieties of flowers for which your soil is unsuitable, but to concentrate on those which were.  The range of flowers and vegetables is so wide that you have a bewildering choice.

Sometimes I seemed to have been particularly successful and felt very proud of my achievements, until I saw some other garden where, it comparison to mine, it was obvious my produce was not as good as I had thought!  A visit to a local village show would soon bring me down to earth, and lower my conceit!  When we were living at the Mill House, one local gardener was notorious for his glowing descriptions of his produce and yields, but it was well known that if he was bringing home vegetables from his allotment, the barrow was very like the costermonger’s stall, with the very largest and choicest on top!  During the war, allotments were in very great demand, and for some years the local council awarded prizes for the best kept allotment.

Later on I heard of one man who perhaps had the best method of getting his garden dug.  I was staying with my daughter, who helps to run a Link Club.  I usually went to their meetings with her, and would give a short talk.  On this particular occasion I had been talking about gardening, and afterwards one man came over to me and told me, in his lovely Essex dialect than when he was a youngster he would help his father on their allotment, and one morning his father said to him: “Tom, us’ll go down the allotment and turn over a bit of ground.  Them old frosties’ll do much better than we shall!”  “So we went down and began digging,” he said, “But about 10 o’clock the old man said he was just going down to the pub to get half an ounce of baccy − shan’t be long, he said − so I kept digging, and digging, and no sign of me father, until about quarter past twelve he comes back, about three parts squiffy.  He looked over what I had done.  ‘Ah, well, I think us has done enough for one day’, he said ‘Us’ll go home and get us some dinner.

During the blitz in 1940, one of the largest London mills − Ranks, at Victoria Dock − received a direct hit, and the Ministry of Food sent displaced employees to other mills all over the country, to help boost flour production.  We gave employment to one of them, a very engaging and reliable man, but a ‘cockney’, who had no previous knowledge of gardening.  Determined to learn − food was rationed, and garden produce certainly helped out − he secured the tenancy of a ten-pole plot, and was coached by one of the lorrymen.  He was very proud when his first potato plants appeared, and in due course, flowered.  He watched them carefully, then one evening he went to his tutor. “George,” he complained, “I ain’t got no taters on my plants.”  George went to have a look, and ‘tiggled’ under one of the roots, to show him some small potatoes growing.  “Blimey,” said Tom “I thought they grew like tomatoes.”


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THE WAR YEARS AND BEYOND
1939-1950


In August 1939, having left our two young daughters with their grandparents at Leicester, my wife and I went to Leeds, to visit friends, whom we had met while on a previous holiday at Torquay.  Having been directed to turn left, or right, at various ‘robots’, which we realised must be traffic lights, we eventually found the house, in Eastcourt Avenue, and soon sat down to a typical Yorkshire high tea.

Later that evening, I accompanied my host to Headingly football ground, for a Rugby League match between Leeds and Halifax.  It was a real local derby, with no quarter given on either side, and my vocabulary, had I chosen to subsequently use it, was quickly increased by the apt oaths, sarcastic advice, and humorous remarks, of the bi-partisans in the crowd of spectators.  At one end of the ground, hundreds of youngsters were packed in, and as the play moved backwards and forwards, so did they sway, looking like a field of corn blowing in the wind.  Regrettably we had to curtail our visit, due to the fear of imminent war, which sadly was declared on the day following our return home.

Some months previously I had become an Air Raid Warden, equipped with a rattle and whistle, and later a stirrup pump and tin hat.  That very night, at around 10 p.m., we had an air raid warning, and all wardens assembling at the nearby cross roads, as instructed, we waited apprehensively.  Some time later the sound of an aircraft was heard, and then a sound like someone flapping sheets of corrugated iron.  “Get down!  Get down!” yelled one warden, and we all fell face down at the nearest spot, with our tin hats over our heads.  Two or three minutes elapsed with no further sound, so one by one, we got upright, to find that one unfortunate man had dived into a ditch, only to find it full of water, so he had to go home for a bath, and a change of clothing!

The man who had yelled “Get down”, according to his story, had taken part in several campaigns, and had experienced bombing.  Be that as it may, in subsequent real incidents, he proved to be the least steady of all.

Later, the L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteers) was formed, later to become the Home Guard.  As wardens, we were forbidden to join the L.D.V., which caused great resentment.  We jockeyed every possible source for a change of heart, pointing out the injustice of it.  There we were, with a whistle and a rattle, while men who became members of the L.D.V. were allowed to carry shotguns, with the promise of rifles later.

Some twelve months later, we were allowed to form a platoon, of air raid wardens only.  This became No.7 Platoon of the local Home Guard.  We were naturally dubbed the “awkward squad”, as the others had been drilling long before us.  However, a drill and ability competition was held for the whole company, for which we spent hours becoming proficient, and we wiped the smirks off their faces by winning it!  Although now Home Guard, and proud possessors of a rifle each, we had to continue our role as wardens.  I could fill a book with the hilarious happenings during my time of service.  The popular B.B.C. series “Dad’s Army” had nothing on us, believe me!

From time to time our ranks were depleted as men were called up for regular army service, and predominantly we became a rather elderly body, most of whom were keen as mustard.  In the early stages of the war, all wardens were called out on every alert, sometimes for five or six consecutive nights, until a rota was formed, whereby only two or three turned out at the alert, the rest of us only if a major incident occurred.

I distinctly remember the daylight raid on Luton, and watching dogfights between our planes and those of the enemy.  There were many local incidents, with high explosive and incendiary bombs causing death and injury.  One very unfortunate incident occurred at dusk one evening, at Long Marston school.  The scholars had left some ten minutes or so, leaving the schoolmistress working, when a direct hit demolished the school, killing her.

There was one noted character who came to the Home Guard Dinner.  This was held on the Saturday, and he did not get home until about 1.30 a.m. on the Sunday morning.  His wife, of course, had gone to bed.  When he went upstairs he took with him a very large pony umbrella, and laid it on the bed.  His wife woke up, and saw it.  “What on earth have you brought that thing up for?” she asked.  “Well, old girl,” was his reply, “I knew there’d be a bit of a storm so I thought I’d come prepared!”

During the war, holidays anywhere near the coast were forbidden, and in any case, with my air raid warden’s commitments, and the Home Guard, not to mention the responsibility of the mill, I found it almost impossible to get away.  Whenever I could, during the fishing season, I would deal with the mail at the office, then dash off to Wilstone reservoir, having previously arranged to hire a punt, and fish, often until nightfall.  There, I could forget my cares and worries and relax, free from incessant phone calls!

While out there on the water, however, I did have a few moments of dread, and a feeling of complete helplessness.  It was later in the war, at the outset of the German ‘doodlebug’ onslaught (unmanned flying bombs), when on two separate occasions I heard them, and heard the motor cut out, and all I could do was sit and await the outcome.  Fortunately, both landed harmlessly on farmland, some distance away.

At one period, in Tring we had particularly harrowing air raid alerts, and bombs, so much so that my mother decided to visit the farm at High Wycombe, hoping for a bit of peace and quiet.  Alas, the very first night of her visit a landmine fell within three hundred yards of the farmhouse.  Fortunately it failed to explode, but she and the others were all evacuated to the pub at the end of the lane, some half a mile away.  I motored over to bring her back home, and by that time sappers (bomb disposal people from the Royal Engineers) had dug some 12 feet or so in the ground to reach the bomb, and had removed the detonator.  I was allowed to go down and inspect it, but I should have been less eager had I known that when it was hauled to the surface the bomb was found to contain a further detonator, of a type previously unknown, and quite unaware of this a sapper had given the outer casing a good hefty swipe, sufficient to fracture it − luckily without causing the bomb to explode!



THE FARMERS’ DISCUSSION SOCIETY


During the war years, and for some years afterwards, I acted as organiser/secretary for a farmers’ discussion society, in which we held monthly evening meetings, sometimes with guest speakers, or panels for Brains Trusts, which were most enjoyable and stimulating.  The highlight was when the late A. G. (Arthur) Street came to address us at Tring.  We threw the meeting open to the general public, and the Victoria Hall was packed to capacity.  The audience, I believe, would have kept him there until the early hours, if they could have had their way!


A. G. Street, farmer, writer and broadcaster.


Social trips to various venues were also arranged.  We visited Cirencester Agricultural College, to meet the unique Professor Bobby Boutflour, and various research stations connected with agriculture.  As we had some eighty or so members, a lot of hard work was entailed to organise everything.

The trip to Cirencester was somewhat hilarious.  Petrol was still rationed at the time, and it had not been possible to visit the area to check things out in advance.  The arrangements were made by telephone.  We were to visit the college at 11 a.m. for a preliminary session, go into Cirencester for lunch, and return to the college afterwards.  We travelled there in two coaches from a local firm who traded as ‘Icknield Coaches’.

The morning session at the college went well, and then we re-entered the coaches to go for lunch, which was arranged at a restaurant, whose name now escapes me.  None of us knew exactly where it was.  However, as the two coaches drove up the main street of the town a man waved the leading coach down, and ushered us into a room attached to the Baptist church, where places were laid for sixty people.  Our actual number was seventy-two, but the waiters said they could lay up the extra places, and we sat down and began to eat our soup, only to be confronted by the frantic owner of the restaurant at which we had booked, who was all ready, but with no-one arriving!
 

Robert Boutflour,
 Principal, Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.

Everybody else hastily departed to our correct feeding place, while I stayed behind and tried to sort things out at the Baptist hall.  It turned out that, by coincidence, a party of about sixty had booked there for lunch prior to a meeting, and were coming from a village many miles away with a name like ‘Icknell’.  Seeing ‘Icknield’ on the front of our coaches the caretaker had assumed we were his party.  However, I gave him £5 (a reasonable sum in those days!) to adjust matters a bit, and hastened off to my lunch at the correct venue.

To round off the day, we went to the New Theatre at Oxford, and after the show to dinner at the Randolph Hotel, where during the after dinner speeches I received a good deal of chaff about having procured two meals for the price of one!

From time to time we held a quiz competition between our own team and another, usually drawn from National Farmers Union branches from the surrounding district.  An amusing incident occurred on one of these occasions.  One member of the opposing team was a rather pompous farm manager for a large estate.  The question master asked him: “What is the gestation period of a mule?” “Ah, you’re not catching me on that one,” was the reply, “It’s two years.”  During the ensuing laughter I felt sorry for the poor devil.  Mules, of course, can’t breed.
 

On another occasion, I arranged for a Brains Trust with a panel of lady farmers, one of whom was Mrs. Barbara Woodhouse, who kept a herd of Jersey cows at Stoke Mandeville (and who subsequently became a notability on television).  Another panellist ran a herd of pedigree Shorthorns, and a third had a mixed herd.  To begin with all was very ladylike, but when Barbara Woodhouse disparaged the Shorthorns as ‘absolutely useless, weigh about a ton, eat their heads off, and yield about a gallon a day of watery milk’, battle was fairly joined!

“Well, that’s better than your miserable little donkey-sized Jerseys.  You have to cover them up with rugs and blankets in the winter, to stop them being blown away!”  As Barbara Woodhouse did indeed cover her cows with what looked like horse rugs, it was a good response.  The audience of farmers were thrilled, and kept throwing a little wood on the fire, so to speak, to keep the ‘discussion’ alive.  That session was one of our highlights.

Professor Bobby Boutflour was, in the 1930s, a most controversial lecturer, advocating scrapping all the old methods of cattle management.  For example, at that time mangel wurzels were widely grown for cattle fodder.  “Ninety per cent water, and waste of good ground to grow them,” was his opinion.  He was also a strong advocate of what was then heresy − the use of artificial fertilizers.  He was one of the speakers who came to address one of our monthly meetings, and although by that time his ideas were more generally accepted, one of our farmer members, who kept a flock of Western Horn sheep, could hardly contain himself.  At question time he was first on his feet.  “Mr. Chairman,” he said, “I‘ve heard some lectures in my time, but never have I heard such twaddle as that man has spoken.  If one of my old ewes went over the ground and farted it would do more good than his artificial manure!”  As you see, we had our moments!



THE MILL UNDER WAR CONDITIONS


The effect of the war on the mill [Ed. now Heygates Flour Mill, Tring] was instant and shattering.  We came under the direct control of the Ministry of Food, who issued an endless stream of S. R. & Os (Statutory Rules and Orders), which sometimes contained twenty or thirty pages of closely printed instructions and regulations, all couched in such legal jargon and phraseology as to be almost incomprehensible.  You needed the help of a lawyer to decipher it all, so much so that one wag succinctly observed ”You don’t make a mistake today, you commit an offence!”.

The mill was now run on a constant 24 hours, 7 days a week basis.  The men worked 8 hour shifts − 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. again, and these were worked on a rotation basis, so that each man worked a different shift each week, on a 3-week cycle.  The only stops were made for essential repairs and maintenance, but to get parts and machinery replacements you had to sign applications ad nauseam to obtain a licence.  Even then you had to use every wile and trick known to man to actually get the stuff!  I have personally travelled 150 miles or so to fetch a particular part.

Unfortunately Harold Saunders, the flour traveller, died in 1940, and a few months later Teddy Clarke also died.  Replacement staff had to be employed, and we were lucky to get an accountant, who came out of retirement to help, and we also found a flour traveller who was exempt from war service, but every firm then was having staffing troubles, as so many were in the services, or munitions, or other war jobs.

Soon, all animal feeding stuffs were strictly rationed.  Coupons were issued to all owners of livestock, the number of coupons being apportioned from returns made in previous years to a government department, and depending on numbers and type of stock.  Beef farmers, for instance, fared very badly, as they were expected to make full use of their grazing land, whilst producers of milk were in a much better position.

The coupons were valid for the month of issue and the subsequent month only, and a strict account had to be kept of each transaction.  Officially, no customer was to become ‘overdrawn’ so to speak.  The coupons then had to be tabulated by us on special forms, fully detailing the number and value of each coupon, and the quantity and type of feeding stuffs supplied against it.  Different forms were required for the different types of feed -cereals, protein, etc.  The forms then had to be submitted to a central area office, in our case Cambridge.  On submission of the tabulated forms to Cambridge, we were issued with Buying Permits, to enable us to purchase more feeds for sale.  At the end of each month, these again had to be tabulated.

Under Ministry control the quality of flour was gradually lowered.  White flour became unobtainable, and the resultant output of ‘national’ flour produced a ‘standard’ loaf of a dingy grey crumb.



OFFICIALDOM, RATIONING AND THE BLACK MARKET


At one time the chief officer at Cambridge was a fiend of a bureaucrat, and every pettifogging little detail of the regulations had to be conformed to.  On one occasion I had an excess of 28 lbs. of face value on the coupon returns I submitted, and my ‘friend’ at Cambridge refused to accept other than an exact balance on the forms, and sent the offending one back.  I telephoned him, explaining the difficulties in getting a balance to the exact pound every time, but he still said he would refuse to accept, so I said ”Right, then, I shall just blot out the quarter of a hundredweight, and re-submit.”  I was immediately told this would be an offence!

Hinting that I had a friend in high office at the Ministry, I called his bluff and got my Buying Permits.

We stored for the Ministry, at one time, 50 tons of groundnut meal, but on making application myself for 10 tons of this product, I was given instructions to draw it from a similar store at Kings Langley Mills.  On phoning them, I found that by sheer coincidence they had been issued with an order to draw 10 tons from us!

Upon phoning my ‘friend’ at Cambridge, suggesting a simple exchange of documents, I was told that on no account could this be done, as it was against regulations to draw from ones own store.  At this I fear I ‘blew up’.  “You can do what the hell you like, but that is what will happen,” I told him.  “If you think that with petrol strictly rationed, and a lack of labour, I am going to Kings Langley, just for them to come here, you had better get your bumps read!”  What we business men had to suffer from officialdom in the form of such inexperienced little fellows like him was nobody’s business.

Rationing was strictly enforced for most foods for human consumption, as well as stock feeding, not to mention fuel, including petrol, and also clothing, etc., all governed by the issue of coupons.  Members of the public were permitted to form a ‘pig club’, who could, under strict regulations, obtain coupons to get food for their stock.  All members joining the club had to take an active part in it, either by helping feed the animals, cleaning out the sty, acting as treasurer, or what have you.  They were then entitled to receive some of the pork when a pig was killed.

It was inevitable that, with all these rules and regulations, a ‘black market’ would be in operation, and many were the clever ruses employed to circumvent the law.  One farmer, with whom I did business legitimately, was anti-officialdom in every respect, and took delight in trying to evade restrictions.  He recounted to me, among others, two instances of this.

During the nineteen thirties a Milk Marketing Board had been formed, to establish a more regular system of milk production, and financial return to farmers.  Each producer of milk was nominated to supply one particular retailer, or depot, and a ceiling was imposed on the gallonage to be supplied.  Thus, any excess production officially had no outlet.

Word somehow reached the officials that the farmer concerned, who I knew as Arthur, was delivering milk on a regular basis to a retailer in an adjacent town.  One morning, when coming to work at 6 a.m., one of his men told him there was a man sitting in the hedge at the bottom of the farm road.  Arthur thanked him, and later sent the official milk, as usual, while at the same time, went himself with the ‘illegal’ surplus milk.  Instead of going by the farm road, however, he left by a ‘baulk’ (a track by the side of a field) which gave access to a by-road on the other side of the farm.  When the snooper saw the empty lorry return later, he realised he had been outwitted.  However, some time later Arthur was caught, and appeared subsequently in the local court, and was fined accordingly.

He was also, however, involved in the slaughter of pigs for the black market.  Three pigs had been killed, and gutted in an outhouse, and the carcases delivered to the butcher.  The outhouse was being hosed down to clean up the traces of blood, when two enforcement officers arrived.  They thought they had caught him red-handed, so to speak, and searched the premises and the farmhouse, for sign of the pig entrails, without success.  There was a large heap of farmyard manure nearby, so they enlisted the aid of a body of policemen to turn it over, thinking that the entrails, etc., had been covered up in the manure.  Gradually the day got warmer and warmer as they toiled, causing them to sweat profusely.  Pausing from his work to watch them for a moment, Arthur observed: “I should like to offer you fellows some beer, but I’d better not.  I should be suspected of doing something wrong!”

When I enquired how he had ‘covered up’, he said: “If ever you want to get rid of stuff like that pronto, chuck it to the sows.  It’s gone in a couple of minutes.”  Then he chuckled.  “The old sows were looking over the sty, laughing at them!”

Nearly all animals are inquisitive, and will take an interest in any unusual activity.  I heard of one instance where a regular delivery of black market meat had been delivered to a large country hotel by hearse, until one astute bobby thought it unusual for a hearse to be making such frequent journeys to the same place, and took particular note.  He observed that the flowers on the coffin were somewhat jaded, and made enquiries, and that ended that particular episode!

Another laughable instance involved a farmer who supplied his local pub with meat from time to time.  Calling in for a drink one day, the landlord asked him if there was anything ‘moving’.  “Yes,” replied the farmer.  “I’ve got two hanging up in the cellar.  I’ll be down later on.”  Two strangers in the pub had pricked up their ears, and shortly afterwards went to the farmer, saying they were enforcement officers from the Ministry of Food.  Losing his nerve, the farmer admitted he had killed two pigs, and helped the ‘officers’ to load the evidence into the boot of their car.  They drove off, telling the farmer he would hear from them later.  Two ‘wide boys’ had done very well for themselves, as, of course, he never heard from them, or saw any more of his pork!

Many farmers take a pernicious delight in outwitting officialdom, often against their own best interests.  In 1941, owing to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, a standstill order on all stock within a 25-mile radius of the infected premises was imposed, to try and prevent the spread of this very virulent infection.  Attending Thame market, therefore, I knew that any stock there would be for immediate slaughter.

I was doing business with one smallholder when a friend of his joined us.  “Damned nuisance, this foot and mouth,” he said.  “I’ve got two sties empty, and could do with some store pigs.”  His friend had recently bought an old deep bodied taxicab, which he used for transport.  “I’ll bring you twelve good ‘uns this evening, Joe.  I’ll give ‘em something to keep ‘em quiet.  If the bobby sees my old cab, he won’t suspect nothing,” he said.  You had to learn to keep your mouth shut at such times but foot and mouth is not a disease to be trifled with, and it was a risky thing to do.

It was fairly common knowledge that one man, who dealt in all sorts of things, was in the black market for eggs.  Occasionally he would visit the matron of the local hospital, saying that he had cadged a few from his farm friends for her patients.  Inevitably he was stopped one day, with eggs in his car.  He loudly disclaimed any suggestion of black market operations, citing the hospital.  He was duly escorted to the hospital, only to be greeted by the matron: “Oh!  How kind of you, Mr. . . . , to bring us a few more eggs.”  He had certainly found a good alibi!

Petrol was in short supply, and to save it all flour deliveries were zoned.  At that time nearly every town had at least one flour mill, and many had more than one.  Apart from the large port mills and much smaller ones such as our own, there were also many windmills still producing commercially.  It is a fact that before 1939 there were well over one thousand flour mills in business in England.  Today the figure is less considerably less than one hundred.

Under zoning, all mills were restricted to deliveries in a small area in their immediate vicinity and I had quite a job arguing with the Ministry to enable us to continue to deliver to some of our best customers, even though they were not too far distant.  I should explain that although of military age, I was in essential food production, and also held two secret appointments under the Ministry of Food, whereby should an emergency arise I would be responsible for ensuring flour and feeding stuffs would continue to be distributed, and I had the power to commandeer supplies and transport as necessary.  It carried great responsibility, but fortunately things did not get to that state.  Nevertheless, I was officially exempted from military service.


――――♦――――

 

CHANGES AT THE MILL


The war, with all its problems, was very stressful, and then in 1940 my father died.  I was the only one of the three children still living in Tring − both Bill and Alice were married and living in other parts of the country, and everything devolved upon me.  It was a very upsetting time.  I was fully stretched, working long hours, and one evening, when I was in the office alone, the Governor came in, and out of the blue said: “Chikko, I’m giving you 400 shares in the Company.”

Some six weeks passed, and I reminded him of his promise.  He then brought the share certificate to me, but I had to ask him to sign it!  Regrettably, a few months later, in 1941, he died.  His gesture in giving me the shares now proved to have been very wise.  Unfortunately, the Governor’s last will had not been correctly witnessed and was invalid.  The valid will had been drawn up some 30 years earlier, when he had appointed two executors and trustees.  Of these, one had become an alcoholic, and the other, a previous director of Hovis Ltd., had retired, and lived in Lincolnshire.  His name was Thomson.

Mrs. Mead now possessed the majority shareholding, with her two daughters and myself as the minor shareholders.  Owing to illness, Mrs. Mead was incapable of giving any help.  She would pay infrequent visits to the mill, spend a few hours, and return home.  There ensued for me a most difficult period.

We had always employed a mill manager, who was in charge of flour production, and after the Governor’s death I became general manager overall.  The then mill manager was a friend of the Mead family, and he took the attitude of ‘the Ministry of Food will pay.’  Inevitably, all the mill staff became imbued with the same outlook and the business began to suffer.

After two years, I wrote to Mr. Thomson and said when he next visited us I would welcome a serious chat with him.  When we did meet I fear I was very forthright and told him that in effect he was neglecting his duty as an executor and trustee, to which he replied that he had never wanted the job and he would take legal advice to relinquish it.  A meeting was subsequently arranged at the Mill House between the shareholders (Mrs. Mead, her two daughters and myself) and Mr. Thomson.  The chief clerk of the company accountants was also present to hold a watching brief.  Mr. Thomson stated that, on legal advice, he wished to retire as trustee and would suggest another person to act, which, if acceptable to the shareholders, would be quite legal.

Challenged by me to name his nominee, he said that I knew the suggested person quite well, as he was a flour miller in his own right, with a mill some thirty miles distant.  I then pointed out that he also had a branch corn merchant’s business in our own locality.  I asked for clarification of the position, because, as I saw it, if we accepted his nominee, and that man then elected to offer to buy our business at even a nominal sum, he would have the power to do so.  Mr. Thomson replied that I was very naive and had not considered the matter honestly.  On behalf of Mrs. Mead and her daughters, I objected most strongly.

The clerk to the accountants said he would have to report back to his head office.  The response from Mr. Thomson was most emphatic: ‘‘Then we’ll sell the business on the open market!’’.  The following day I wrote to him stating that I was interested in negotiating to buy the business myself; I had a shooting colleague who would finance me in the person of Mr. Francis Hock, of Singer & Friedlander, the well known bankers.  I was given the complete ‘cold shoulder’, and over the next few weeks was interviewed by prospective buyers, including two gentlemen from Hovis Ltd.

After the meeting at the Mill House, and my subsequent letter to him, the only contact I had was when he approached me saying that my shares were proving a handicap in the sale negotiations, and the trustees were prepared to make me a fair offer for them.  “We think par would be very fair,” he said.  I was furious.  “I prefer to have no further dealings with you,” I told him.  “You are insulting my intelligence.  The business has been under my sole control for the past two years, with no help at all from you.  I have such regard for the Mead family that I would rather give the damned shares to you!”

Then, early in July, 1943, I returned from a busy day on the Mark Lane Corn Exchange, having also been selling flour on both my outward and inward journeys, and on coming into the office was introduced to a Mr. Robert Heygate.  This gentleman said he wished to consult me about the purchase of English grain from the coming harvest.  “In what connection, may I ask?” I enquired.  “My family has bought the business of Wm. N. Mead Ltd., and has paid a deposit,” was the startling reply.  “Well, you haven’t bought me with it, have you?” I responded.  I suggested that we should talk after I had dealt with all the affairs of my London trip, and if he would accompany me to my home for tea we could converse without interruption.  Subsequent to my meeting with Robert Heygate I agreed to travel down to their family mill at Bugbrooke, Northampton, to meet his father and elder brother Jack.  I liked what I saw there.  A family firm, they had employees with upwards of 50 years in their service, which told its own story.

I agreed to continue to manage the Tring business, but much of the previous responsibility was off my shoulders.  From the outset the Heygates placed implicit trust in me and, as formerly, I continued to be the sole signatory for cheques, etc.  After consultation, it was agreed that for the time being the Tring mill would continue trading under the name of Wm. N. Mead Ltd; three years later the trading title was revised to Meads Flour Mills Ltd., still with me in charge, and we continued under this name for a number of years.

Despite the limitations of continued Ministry control and shortages due to the war, I liked the Heygate approach, which was: “What can we do to modernise,” rather than the old Governor’s “Make do and mend” attitude.

At that time we had one access only to the premises, which was very irksome.  Robert Heygate paid fairly regular visits to Tring, and one day he approached me.  “R. S.” he said (that was how I was now referred to!)  “If you had bought the business, what would have been you first improvement?”  “To gain a second entrance,” I replied.  “What are the prospects?” was his next enquiry.  “Pretty grim!” was my view.  There was no room for a second entrance on our existing land.  The one entrance we had was between the Mill House building and the mill cottages.  The cottages extended to the canal bridge and there was a wall built from the Mill House garden fence to the mill building, marking the edge of our land.  Beyond this wall was a paddock belonging to the Rothschild family.

For the next twelve months or so I wrote repeatedly to Lord Rothschild to get his agreement to sell us a small strip of this paddock for the required entrance.  Eventually I received permission to contact Major Fellowes, Lord Rothschild’s agent at Bury St. Edmunds, which I did, and a site meeting was arranged for 1.30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon.

We had by then just started to supplement the barge deliveries of imported wheat by using contractor’s lorries to fetch it from the London Docks − in bags, of course.  Bulk deliveries didn’t start until several years later.  The wheat intake then was at the front of the mill and I arranged for the three lorries we then owned to be parked there, and for a contractor’s lorry loaded with wheat to arrive in the yard at 1.40 p.m.  I had to agree to pay all overtime charges for the driver’s time, etc.!

Major Fellowes and his clerk arrived promptly, and while we were looking round this lorry arrived and, of course, couldn’t get near the unloading point.  “Look, sir,” I said.  “You couldn’t have a more graphic illustration of our difficulties.  We haven’t room to move.  This lorry has been delayed and it must be unloaded to be available for work on Monday.  I shall have to get a man to move our vehicles first.  This yard just isn’t big enough!”

The upshot was that I had permission to contact their local agent, Merry’s Estate Agents of Leighton Buzzard, to arrange matters with them.  Mr. Merry and his assistant duly arrived and began measuring off a portion of the paddock.  However, this paddock, which was let to a local farmer, already had an iron rail fence dividing it roughly in half.  I suggested that perhaps it would possible for us to have the parcel of land on our side of that existing fence.  This was agreed, with the proviso that we must negotiate with the farmer to compensate him for his loss of grazing land. This I did successfully and we thus acquired ground with a road frontage of 150 feet and a depth of three or four hundred yards, widening towards the rear, where it curved round the canal.  Immediately we had possession we erected a 10 ft. high chain link fence to define our boundary and a line of trees was planted to relieve the starkness.  These, unfortunately, are no longer there, but the fence is!

As soon as our deal was complete Tring Urban District Council slapped a Compulsory Purchase Order on the Rothschild estate for the rest of the paddock for building council houses.  Until I had shown the way, I don’t think they had thought of such an order!

Our new entrance was constructed and today is the only entrance to the mill.  As controls gradually eased after the end of the war, the mill was remodelled, production increased, and the business generally grew steadily.

In 1947, the Ministry of Food accountants requested many statistics prior to finalising the accounts for the control years.  My final share of the profits for those years was assessed as £1,157.  On submission of my tax returns, the authorities at the Watford regional office demanded P.A.Y.E. on the total of that payment in the one financial year.  To this I strongly objected.  In some years from 1939 to 1946, the control years, there had been a loss, and on this basis I said I was prepared to have each year assessed separately, but they continued to insist on deductions in the one year.  I consulted an accountant, but he was unable to get settlement on my terms.  Eventually he served notice on the firm’s accountants that if they paid me on the reduced sum I would sue them.  He followed this up by writing to the Tax Commissioners to say that I would be suing them for Vexatious Conduct in withholding my rightful dues.  The Commissioners subsequently gave their decision that I was not responsible for the position; thus, the full sum, without deduction, was to be paid to me.  A very good decision!  My accountant friend charged me 100 guineas for professional services, which was fair enough!

During the two years following the end of the war conditions gradually returned to normal, with supplies no longer restricted by rationing.  Good salesmanship once again became essential, in both flour and feeding stuffs.  Bread production was no longer limited to the national loaf and became profitable, and we began to lose the custom of one or two medium-sized bakers who had been bought out by the large milling companies, such as Ranks and Spillers.  Accordingly, I approached the Garfield-Weston group of Associated Family Bakers with success and my sales to them became so large that I saw the danger of becoming too dependant upon them when they were in a position to pressure us price wise. 

The old adage “Never put all your eggs in one basket” became relevant.  In consequence I concentrated on selling flour to smaller bakeries in London and other large towns.  It was just as well, because Garfield Weston − an outstanding business man − felt vulnerable from the efforts of Ranks and Spillers and began buying flour mills of his own.  Today the organisation not only produces flour for their own bakeries, they sell their excess production to independent bakeries.

As things gradually got back to normal trading after the war other things began happening to my family.  Sadly, my mother died in 1950, a very traumatic time.  My daughters, now growing up rapidly, started seeing boyfriends.  The elder, Valerie, married in 1956 and Brenda, the younger, in 1958.  Valerie married a professor of horticulture at the University of Essex, and moved to the Colchester area, where she still lives, although her husband has now retired.  Brenda, who married the son of a local farmer, had always been interested in catering for parties, etc., and she and her husband and their four boys now own and run a very successful hotel in Appleby.  At the time of writing I have five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren!

I enjoyed my work at the mill, with its constant challenge, and enjoyed friendship with many good farmer and baker customers.  I always tried to be fair in my dealings, although naturally was called a robber, a parasite, and a few other names, as is the way of farmers, all in good part.  I finally retired from the mill in 1972 after 48 years there.  I am pleased to be able to say that many of my customers remained friends, and often said what a pleasure it had been to do business with me.



WORK IN THE COMMUNITY


In 1939, when 24 years of age, I was appointed a Governor of Tring School, on which board I served until 1973, and was for some years Chairman.  In 1940, I became a committee member of the Herts & Essex Corn Merchants Association, and was chairman of that body for some years.  In 1945 I was persuaded to stand for election to Tring Urban District Council and was successful in the poll.  I served for 28 years, acting from time to time as chairman of various committees, and as Chairman of the full Council for one year on four separate occasions.


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The Rev. Ralph Seymour

 

SEVEN VICARS OF TRING


HENRY FRANCIS

THOMAS VERNON GARNIER

CLAUDE WOOD

WILLIAM THOMAS REES

KENNETH LOWDELL

DONALD HOWELLS

JOHN PAYNE COOK


――――♦――――

 
THE REVD HENRY FRANCIS


From a choirboy at the age of nine years, I have served in the Tring Parish in various duties, and to-date will have done so under seven vicars.  The Reverend Henry Francis was Vicar at the time of my joining the choir.

Walking home with my father one evening, we met an old man, a Mr Lines.  ‘Hello, Bill,’ he said to my father.  ‘Is this one of your nippers?’  ‘Yes’, Father said.  ‘We have just left choir practice’, to which he replied, ‘You know, my boy, I was in the choir before it was a choir’.  Naturally I was puzzled, but Father explained.  Until the year 1900, the chancel was quite clear of stalls, so the choir occupied the two front rows of pews.

The Revd Henry Francis came to the parish in 1903.  He was a bachelor and lived with his sister in the old vicarage (now part of Sutton Housing Trust).  He was a very sincere and dedicated man, known for his pastoral visits.  He invariably wore dark grey suits with Norfolk style jackets with long pockets.  During his incumbency the choir flourished.  We were accompanied by a piped organ and sat in the oak benches as now.

There was also a very active Church Lads Brigade complete with trumpet band in the charge of the then curate, who was the father of the late Christopher Slemeck.

Congregations were quite large from a town population of about 4,000.  The clergy were kept busy at major festivals.  There were celebrations of Holy Communion at 6.00am, 7.00am and 8.00am.  At 11.00am there was Matins at which Sunday School scholars attended, but left during the singing of the third hymn before the sermon.  Once, each month, there was a Sung Eucharist at 12.00 midday.  The sermons were of greater length than today: thirty minutes duration at Evensong was the normal practice.  The electric lighting was from storage cells housed in the small lodge by the vicarage gate.  In the winter during the sermons, half the lights were turned off to conserve electricity.  This ultra-dim lighting was an opportunity for us choir boys to get into mischief.  I was known as ‘Angel Face’, but believe me, that was just a façade.

At times, the giggling and larking about tended to get a bit out of hand.  When this happened, one of the choirmen who sat immediately behind me and my pal, Bill Richards, would push his hymn book through the arch of the stalls and prod us in the small of the back.  This was not very pleasant, particularly because he was a bit short-sighted and used a large print edition.  One evening I consulted Bill Richards.  ‘If old Harry starts to use his hymn book again’, I said, ‘we shall hear his surplice rustle as he comes forward.  You lean over one side and I’ll lean over the other side’.  Later in the service, all happened as planned.  We heard the rustle, and when he attempted to prod us, he met with no resistance and lost his grip, and the book somersaulted to land flat on its side on the tiles of the chancel floor.  The consequent loud report boomed round the church.  After the dispersal prayer in the choir vestry, the vicar asked, ‘What on earth happened during my sermon?  I thought a gun had been fired’.  ‘I am very sorry’ poor old Harry admitted, ‘I just wanted to poke one of the choirboys in the back with my hymn book and it slipped out of my hand’.  ‘Don’t you ever do that again.  It was most distracting.’  One up to ‘Angel Face’.

There was a very active Sunday School, enlivened by occasional tea parties with prize giving etc.  The organisation of these was always the province of Mrs Minall, who was the widow of the taxidermist at the Rothschild museum.  She was a complete martinet whose word was law.  She had the Revd Francis completely subdued, but was a wonderful organiser.  The outbreak of the 1914-18 war brought many changes, but Henry Francis was with us until the Revd J. V. Garnier came to us in 1919.


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THE REVD THOMAS VERNON GARNIER


Revd Garnier came to Tring in 1919 when the Revd Francis retired, and like him, was also a bachelor, but he employed two menservants.

He originally lived in the new vicarage on Mortimer Hill (later demolished) but erelong moved to occupy Braybrooke, a Victorian house in upper Western Road.

He was always impeccably dressed, due perhaps to his French origins, for he came from a very old French family of which he and one brother remained.  He used a cycle for going round the parish, and when at the church, he invariably stored it in the small room just inside the old large vicarage gate which was kept closed.  Access was by a small wicket gate.

One Friday evening as he arrived for choir practice and began to negotiate the small gate, Edward Bell remarked, ‘You know Vicar, you remind me of the Bible story of the camel going through the eye of the needle’.  Fortunately he had a good sense of humour.  He frankly admitted to those of us who shared his confidence that he was no preacher but his sermons delivered with such obvious nervous strain had the advantage of brevity.  He was much loved for his pastoral visits, particularly to the sick.

He sometimes phrased his observations somewhat clumsily, and rumour has it that calling on an old lady in New Mill in November when the weather had turned colder, he remarked ‘Winter draws on, Mrs Simmons’, to which she replied, ‘Not yet, Sir, but I shan’t be long’.

After the ravages of the First World War, the choir was now back to strength, and it became the custom to have an annual outing to a seaside town.  A special train was arranged, starting from Leighton Buzzard, which collected choirs from each station until Boxmoor.  At Tring this entailed the use of a horse-drawn wagonette to take the choir to the station.  On one occasion the venue was Aberystwyth, which entailed a very early start.  The organ blower’s aid was enlisted to make a round of choir members on his cycle to wake them up.  Unfortunately, after doing this, he had half an hour to spare, and sat down in his armchair – and went to sleep missing the trip himself!  On another trip the same old fellow on his way to the station yelled out, ‘Halt, halt!  Me tickets are in the clock’.  However after looking carefully, he found he had his tickets after all.

The Revd Garnier had one brother of much the same age as himself, about forty.   Both of them realised that time was slipping by, and if they did nothing about it, there would be no heir to the name of Garnier. According to hearsay, it fell to the lot of Thomas, our vicar, to take steps to rectify the matter.  However that may be, he suddenly became a constant visitor to the family of a retired tea planter with four children, the eldest of whom was a beautiful young lady nearing her 21st birthday.  In due course his engagement to marry Helen was announced.  Later, he and his bride moved to a living in Norfolk, where an heir was forthcoming with the addition of a small family.  We had noticed a slackening of his normal rather austere manner, but none the less it came as a surprise when he was asked to give a speech at the annual dinner of the Operatic and Dramatic Society.  On rising to speak he pronounced, ‘An after dinner speech should be like a lady’s dress: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting’.  During the eleven years he spent in Tring he became a much-loved and respected parish priest.


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THE REVD CLAUDE WOOD


In 1930 the Reverend Claude Wood came to us from a large parish in Croydon and was to be with us for the next twelve years.  He was related to the Williams family of Pendley Manor who held the patronage of the living.

His father was for many years the Rector of Aldbury and lived in the beautiful new red brick Rectory at the foot of Toms Hill.  Claude Wood was handicapped by a slight physical disability but that was never allowed to interfere with his untiring devotion to duty.  He was an outstanding preacher and firmly held the attention of his congregation.  Only this week I met an old friend in the town who remarked, ‘I shall always remember him for his outstanding sermons’.  He was a very earnest, rather sober man who became much loved during his ministry here.

During the winter months he was sometimes afflicted by a slight hoarseness, but nevertheless it was his regular custom to read the ‘Office’ for the day from his desk in the Chancel, and this was not altered.  At that time we had a silvery-haired verger who, during the reading of the ‘Office’, occupied his official seat remotely by the South door.  The Vicar thought it foolish of him to strain his throat, so he broke off, ‘Smith, would you please come up and sit a little nearer.’  The response from Smith was, ‘And our mouth shall show forth Thy praise’.

Co-incidentally, the Vicar’s chief warden was also called Smith (the chemist).  He had to meet the vicar one evening at the vicarage and was pleased to be given a glass of sherry before the discussion started.  When business was over the vicar said quite unconsciously, ‘Smith, will you have another sherry before you go?’  Smith took this as the hint that he was now to depart, and hurried away, making a polite refusal.

Claude Wood had a very charming wife and four children.  The ladies of the parish were delighted to welcome a vicar with a wife and family after two bachelor priests.  The members of the Mothers’ Union were particularly thrilled when Mrs Wood became a member and subsequently enrolling President.

After nearly twelve years we were all sorry when Claude Wood moved from Tring to become Suffragen Bishop of Bedford.  Shortly after his leaving, and at his instigation, I was approached by the late Canon Wold to seriously consider becoming a Reader, and that is why I became what was then known as a Lay Reader attached to Tring Parish.  A year later I was appointed as a Diocesan Reader.


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THE REVD WILLIAM THOMAS REES


In 1942 William Thomas Rees came to the parish together with his wife and sister, who made her home with them.  Her husband Captain Roberts was away sailing the Orontes Liner to and from Australia.  Mrs Rees was unable to take an active part in the parish due to indifferent health.

Captain Roberts’ wife was a delightful person and during the war, worked at the National Westminster Bank in Tring as cashier.  Her engaging personality endeared her to many people.  Bill Rees was a realist, and insisted on bright cheerful services and hymns, and sermons of no more than ten minutes duration.  It was his custom from time to time after Matins to invite selected members of the congregation to go to the vicarage for sherry.

Also during his incumbency, he arranged for noted professional artistes to give mid-week recitals in the Parish Church.  On one occasion the Church was packed to hear Mary Jarrad the famous contralto, and her husband, the famous organist Dr Thalben-Ball.  Subsequently it was found that the organ badly needed overhaul and repair.  This was impossible due to wartime demands, to obtain either the craftsmen or the necessary materials.  Bill Rees asked for my opinion as to what could be done, and I reluctantly said that the only alternative was to buy an electric Hammond organ until such time as the piped organ could be repaired after the war.  The major obstacle would be to obtain the requisite ‘faculty’.

The vicar and I saw the then ‘Chancellor’, Sir Harry Vaisey, who was then living at ‘Hollyfield’, and by pleading our cause, persuaded him to grant permission.  Our amateur organist at the time was the late Wilfred Davies.  The organ was duly installed near the Lady Chapel, and he played it brilliantly.  After initial criticism it was generally accepted.  Financially it cost £900, and was sold after the war for £2,000 or thereabouts.

Bill Rees had come to us from Cheddington, where he had become popular with the Shand-Kydd family and the Stoddards.  This friendship continued after he came to Tring, and he was rather naughty in that he would sometimes phone me on the Saturday to take Evensong at the Parish or New Mill church.  I soon rumbled that the ‘emergency’ was to allow him to attend a sherry or dinner party with these friends.  Thus I told him that unless I knew by Tuesday, he would be unlucky.  ‘Alright, Dr Spurgeon’, he replied, but I undertook to call at the Vicarage on Tuesday evenings to ensure no misunderstandings.

He was an inveterate practical joker and leg puller, and on one occasion I was well and truly hoaxed, much to his enjoyment.  I promised to get my own back.  He was a poultry expert and judge, and he kept some pedigree fowls in fowl houses on the vicarage grounds.  He employed a handy-man named Jack Reeve who was very deaf.  On walking up the drive on this Tuesday evening I met the curate Jack Davis.   ‘Are you going to see the old man?’ he asked.  ‘If so, watch your step, he’s raving mad.’  Before going to a meeting this morning, he told Jack to knock down a particular fowl house for firewood, and Jack knocked down the wrong one.  I was delighted to hear this.  As usual he enquired after my wellbeing, to which I replied that I was not feeling too well as I had a spot of domestic trouble.  ‘My dear fellow, I just don’t believe it.  Let me get you a glass of sherry, and tell me all about it’.  I replied that I was having problems at home due to lack of …


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THE REVD KENNETH LOWDELL


Canon Kenneth Lowdell came to us from Golders Green in 1947, a typical London parish where people in the streets seldom spoke to one another and to which he had become accustomed.  In consequence, when he passed parishioners here, and failed to greet them, he was thought to be ‘snooty’ and unsociable.  However, he quickly became aware of this and ‘mended his ways’ as it were.

When he came to us he had four children and when John, his elder son, was asked how many brothers and sisters he had he replied, ‘We have two ordinaries and two utilities’.  In other words two who were born before the outbreak of war, and the other two during the war years, when utility was in general use.  There was Jane the first born, then Jon and Paul and Anna, to be followed by Robert and Francis who were both born in Tring.

The new vicarage built on Mortimer Hill had been pulled down in the time since the Revd Bill Rees left.  The site was bought by Mr Andrews of Brook Street Garage and sold to a developer.  This ground is now covered with flats and is called Mortimer Rise.  During this time the tenant of the old vicarage died.  This was Mr M. C. Kemp, formerly Headmaster of Harrow school.  Two or three years later, Mrs Kemp moved away from Tring, and so the vicarage was empty for the use of the Lowdell family.

Mrs Lowdell was a very charming woman, dedicated to her family, and to such parish activities as she could find time for.  She had a most pleasing soprano voice and had been a member of the BBC Singers.

Canon Lowdell himself was completely dedicated to his calling but had a physical disability due to being wounded in the left foot.  He had been operated on at least nine times and had to wear a surgical boot, but was still in constant pain.  He was a very determined character and was very reluctant to delegate.  Matters came to head one Eastertide when he was ill and confined to bed under doctor’s orders.  It fell to my lot as senior Reader to take Matins and preach on Easter Day.

Mrs Lowdell confided in me about his obstinacy, so I had advised her to make another approach to say that we Readers thought it was unfair that he did not make much use of us.  To her surprise the stratagem worked and he began to request our help.  His illness was of short duration fortunately and the parish became accustomed to see him out and about riding his cycle which was his usual mode of transport.

Consequent on the death of Mrs Lowdell, he retired and went to live with his daughter Anna at Chartridge.  His eighteen years of service to the parish will be recalled to those of us who remembered him, with love and affection.


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THE REVD DONALD HOWELLS


Following on from Canon Lowdell’s retirement, some months elapsed before the new incumbent Donald Howells, his wife and sons Robert and Jeremy, came to us from his previous parish of Knebworth.  This was in 1966.

Shortly after, the Revd Donald Flatt was appointed to serve for the customary two years as deacon before full ministry.  He was previously estate agent to the Earl of Dudley on his Rickmansworth estate.  At the age of 45 years, he felt the call of the ministry, and he and his wife Gwendoline and their son and two daughters took up residence in St Martha’s Lodge.  His son later became an estate agent and practised on the premises of what was once the George Hotel as Flatt, Mead and Partners.

The two ‘Donalds’ worked extremely well together and both had a good sense of humour which they sorely needed with me to deal with!  Just prior to Christmas, Donald Howells made an appearance at some function or other, and in a lapse of memory, went on to say that he was confident that the people of Knebworth (instead of Tring) would be generous in their support.  On the Sunday after Christmas, Donald Flatt drew my attention to the notices for the day, as there was obviously something wrong.  Looking over his shoulder, I pointed out that the notes were for the Sunday after Advent, saying, ‘I reckon I’ve got a ripe couple of Donalds to deal with.  Last week the vicar was referring to his old parish and now you are back in last year.’

After two years or so, Donald Flatt was appointed to be Vicar of Wigginton where he was much liked.  There ensured a period of many months before another curate was appointed.  Just when it seemed that an appointment had been made, negotiations fell through and Donald Howells became frustrated and overworked, for as a reader my help was somewhat limited.  One evening he and Dorothy joined me for dinner and he said, ‘I was quite confident that at last an appointment would be made, but alas it was not to be’.  He then went on to say, ‘Why on earth someone like you couldn’t be ordained, I don’t know’.  I replied, ‘Don’t be silly, Donald, at my age of 67 that would be impossible’.

I pondered deeply and prayed of course.  Then Donald made arrangements for me to see Canon Senar of Little Gaddesden, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands.  He in turn arranged for me to meet the then Bishop of St Alban’s, Robert Runcie.  The outcome of the discussions was that he would like me to become a ‘guinea pig’ and become ordained to the ‘Self supporting retirement ministry’.  After much study and attending the normal selection committee, I had a period of training at Cuddesdon Theological College and I was ordained as a Deacon in our church in April 1973, and later to full time priesthood in St Alban’s Abbey in September of the same year.  The stipend was £1 per year.

The twenty-three years which followed until my retirement due to advancing age, were completely happy and fulfilled.  During the eighteen years I spent with Donald Howells there was a great rapport between us.  One Christmas his family bought him a sheepskin jacket which made me comment, ‘You know, Donald, the older I get, the more I see the words of the Bible become true’.  ‘In what way?’ he queried.  ‘Another wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ I replied.

Sometime later I went into the vestry to find him looking at old parish magazines of the 1910-14 period.  He remarked, ‘You know, you old folk were not always correct.  I know that this can’t be right’.  He pointed out an entry giving the details of the Sunday School prize giving.  There was the entry: ‘First Prize for Good Conduct – Ralph Seymour’.  One up to Donald!

An interesting item was that on the outer cover of the magazine, a list of thirty-four district visitors was named.  These people delivered the magazine personally and reported cases of trouble, sickness and interest back to the vicarage.


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THE REVD JOHN PAYNE COOK


After the Revd Donald Howells left us, almost a year passed before John Payne Cook was appointed.  I was then a fully ordained priest, and thus able to officiate in all the normal duties of an incumbent.  I confess that I was fully stretched, but the support of the two churchwardens, Paul Van As and Eric Hollingsworth, was outstanding.  This, together with the understanding and the co-operation of the congregation enabled us to successfully ‘weather the storm’.

Many of us had known John when he was Priest in Charge of All Saints’ Church in Berkhamsted, from where he moved to Bow Brickhill and after eleven years there, came to us in Tring.  Fortunately, he and Mary his wife and family moved into the new rectory which was built when the Sutton Housing Trust acquired the original vicarage.  Poor Donald Howells and family were at times perished with cold when living in the old vicarage, wearing outdoor clothing even in bed.

All John’s children have biblical Christian names: Naomi, Ruth, Daniel and Hannah.  I was surprised when John, on his first Sunday here, asked me to take the 8.00am (Prayer Book) Communion service.  He explained that for the whole eleven years at Bow Brickhill, the Alternative Service Book had been used, and so it would be helpful to him to watch me take the Prayer Book service.  He quickly became accustomed to change, in consequence there was both an ASB and Prayer Book service available each Sunday.

I am sure that his young family enjoyed a happy adolescence in Tring, but have now grown up to become sophisticated members of society.  Daniel was (like his father) a very keen cricketer and a member of Tring Cricket Club.

I am glad to say that there was always a good rapport between John and me, despite my occasional impertinent remarks.  As you will know I am almost bald, whereas John has a wonderful mane of hair, so that often I have handed a comb to him so that he could preen himself before starting a service but coupled with the snide remark ‘Worse than any 14-year old-choirboy’.

His appointment as Rural Dean of the Berkhamsted Deanery was a well merited appointment as was his elevation to Honorary Canon of St Alban’s Abbey.  He also wrote the Bishop Wood School hymn.  We missed him while he was away on St Kitts, a small island in the Caribbean.


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OBITUARY: RALPH SEYMOUR


It is difficult to think of Tring without Ralph, and even more difficult to think of the Parish Church without him.  His cheerful, often impish presence will be sadly missed, especially by the older generation.  I did not know him as a younger man, but there was, in the time we have been here, a real sense in which he remained young in spirit, despite his advancing years.  He had the huge gift of being able to see the amusing side of everything and the twinkle in his eye remained undimmed.  Until he was ever ninety years old he was continuing to give out love and care to countless people in their bereavement and his visits were always welcome.  Even when he was unable to get about in the community he continued his ministry by letter in that splendid handwriting which also remained entirely legible to the end.  Affectionately known as ‘The Bishop‘, he will long be remembered as a great Tring character, and as a faithful and devoted friend of God.  I fear there will be a slump in the sale of ‘Fox’s Mints‘!

John Payne Cook


The following letter was received some time ago from Revd Donald Howells.  The letter was reciprocal to the article which Ralph wrote in his series of vicars he had served under.  I waited for a suitable gap in the flow of articles from Ralph in order to publish this letter, but no such gap ever came − until now.  Donald did remark that his comments might sound like an obituary, so I am grateful now to be able to use it as such.  Ralph has left me with a number of future articles in his second series on boyhood memories, and I shall publish these in future issues, as I know he would have wished me to do so.

Editor



When we first came to Tring in 1966, Ralph Seymour already had an established influence in the town as Councillor and Reader.  He ran the flour mills at New Mill.  I was never sure of his exact title but he was an astute man of business.  His main interest, apart from his family and garden, was always the parish of Tring in which he had been born and where he had always lived.  When, therefore, he was ordained he had the great advantage of knowing the town and its people so well and his well-known concerns for the town gave him great influence.

I remember Ralph first of all as a man who always knew his own mind and was not afraid to express it.  This did not always please those who were of a different mind, but he stuck to his guns.  When he went to Cuddesdon for theological training he was of course much older than any of the other students and was shocked at many of their views.  It is to his great credit that he emerged from this with a wider view and a greater tolerance, without in any way compromising his principles.

Ralph has always been loved as a preacher.  He never wrote down a word of his sermons but turned them over in his mind all the week.  He spoke naturally from the heart to the heart nearly always recalling incidents of his own life − especially as a naughty small boy − to reinforce his point.  Ralph was always a good teller of tales and was never short of some yarn or other.

He was supremely interested in people and spent most of his time as a priest visiting the elderly and sick with great devotion.  He brought comfort and humour into many a home.  In his later years he took to the practice of taking elderly ladies out to lunch − always more than one at a time of course, for which he oflen had his leg pulled.  In the nicest possible way he liked women, and they in turn liked him.

We cannot speak of Ralph without including his wife Meg who died so tragically in her late sixties.  Those who knew her respected her and remember her with great affection.  She supported Ralph in every way, although I suspect that as in most happy marriages they did not always see eye to eye.  She would say he was a morning person, she was an evening person − the lark and the owl.

Those who did not know Ralph at the time of his active ministry can have no idea of his importance to the life of the parish.  His ordination proved to be one of the very best things that happened in my time as Rector.  It is good to be able to say how much we owe to Ralph and how much we all loved him.

Donald Howells.


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