Love at First Sight
by Evelyn Close
I first caught sight of the village from the bridge over the Welland having passed through Ketton on my way from Stamford. I looked up the hill and there it was, looking serene and lovely in the sunshine – the Church presiding over the stone cottages. I fell in love with this village straight away and have continued this love affair for over 60 years.
The people were very friendly to me ‘a foreigner’. There was quite a distinction between the upper and lower classes. The clergymen, farmers, schoolmaster and business folk were all looked up to and held a place in the village life apart from the workers on the farms etc. Work was divided between slaters and farmers. Consequently, there was not much money to squander on unnecessary luxuries. Except at harvest time which the workers looked upon as a bonus.
There was a good community life, as each neighbour helped out in times of need, sickness, birth and death.
There was a vigorous Church life and services were always well attended. This formed the centre of village social life.
At Christmas time there would be a lot of whist drives, known locally as the ‘Fur and Feather’. A lot of people would attend these functions hoping to win their Christmas dinner. The Collyweston Silver Band used to serenade the village on Christmas Eve. The hospitality metered out to them was lavish, resulting in headaches the next morning.
There were three grocery/hardware stores, a Post Office, a Butcher’s shop, a Bakery and a Cycle shop. In the grocers you could buy pins, needles and cotton, stationery and paraffin. The cycle shop sold crockery and saucepans as well as paraffin – so we were well provided for.
In those days there was no health insurance as we know it today. When the breadwinner became unwell, it meant hardship for all the family. Societies known as Sick and Divide Clubs were formed. Each of the pubs in the village had its own club. There were three at this time, The Slater’s Arms, The Blue Bell and The Engine. At the end of the year any extra funds were shared out between the members. This came as a welcome contribution towards the Christmas fare.
The heating of the cottages came from open fires or paraffin stoves. Lighting was provided by oil lamps. Floors were usually covered with cocoa matting and pegged cloth rugs. Electricity came in 1934 and piped water in 1954. Sanitation, quite a few years later. Water was drawn from wells or pumps situated in various properties on each side of the village street. The main village pump was situated in what is now the car park of the Slater’s Arms. It was lovely clear drinking water, sparkling and tasted delicious.
The wells never ran dry, even during the hottest, driest seasons.
The Blacksmiths forge drew many children to watch and ‘Smithy’ shoe the large farm horses and mend the various farm implements that were used then. Tractors and combine harvesters came later on. Children would also gather to watch the great traction engine pulling the threshing machine into the fields and farmyards. The straw was then made into a rick and the newly threshed corn was stored in sacks.
In the Autumn a pile of large flintstones would be spread on the road for the horses and carts to flattened during the winter, and so make the roads good for another year. This was very dusty in the summer and hard on the feet. Later on came the hot tar machine and gravel to spread on top of it. It was wonderful when the roads were macadamed and the open gutters along the street were covered.
When somebody in the village died, it was customary to toll the Church bell for about a quarter of an hour, 3 bells for a man, 2 for a woman and 1 for a child. Then on the day of the funeral the village bier was brought from the church to the house of the deceased by the four ‘bearers’ of the coffin. These men then went into a neighbour’s house to partake of bread, cheese and beer. The passing bell was tolled to let them know when it was time to assemble for refreshments. Then the coffin was placed on the bier, with mourners arranged two by two behind this. The procession then slowly wended its way to the Church, the mournful bell still tolling. It must have been a rough ride for the person inside the coffin. The iron wheels of the bier rattled noisily and shakily on the rough road to the Church and Cemetery for internment.