Mary Forster

This is one of a small collection of recollections written for the Parish Magazine over the years and edited by the late Keith Gascoigne. They show a glimpse of what like was like at the beginning of the 20th century:

In July 2001 former Lapworth resident Mrs Mary F Forster of Warwick (died 11/12/14, buried at St Michael’s Baddesley Clinton) reminisced on farming at the turn of the 20th century when collecting the Poor Rate was no easy job…

Mrs Forster (nee Bowley) said: Both my grandfathers lived in the parish at the turn of the 20th century – Frank Oliver Bowley at Yew Tree Farm, at the turn of the 20th century owned by a German family named Weiss, and Thomas Robinson Hattin at Hole House Farm. Yew Tree Farm was sold about 1919; Grandad Bowley moved to Northbrook Farm in Sherbourne and Grandad Hattin to the Park Farm at Baddesley Clinton.

I seem to remember my father telling me that these two were the last members of the public to collect the Poor Rates in the parish (a job I gather was not easy!) before this duty was taken over by Solihull Council, and many years ago I handed in the Poor Rate Book for the Parish of Lapworth, dated 1892, to the County Record office in Warwick, where it is recorded as deposit number CR991.

I was also told of the “Nailers” that used to come from the Black Country just before haymaking each year. They came with wagons loaded with nails of every description, forks, spades and hoes of every type, chains and goodness knows what else that they knew would be wanted in the countryside during the summer. They used to camp out on a grass triangle in the road just outside Yew Tree Farm whilst they supplied the area.

Both my grandfathers regularly sent wagon loads of hay drawn by horses into Birmingham – quite a long day’s work from Lapworth, but they did have stops at various pubs on the way home. The horses knew the way back. In the summer time my grandmothers used to make butter from any spare cream and then take in baskets by train from Lapworth station to Birmingham market, wrapped in rhubarb leaves in an attempt to keep it cool.

Harvesting was a much drawn-out affair at the turn of the twentieth century. My father told me that many times they would be carrying winter beans in the moonlight when the bell-ringers at St Mary’s were practising for Christmas.

Both my grandfathers brewed their own beer but I think Grandad Bowley’s was thought the better.

The road from Packwood House past Pratt’s Pit and on to Lowsonford runs along Lapworth Street, and along it Yew Tree Lane turns off to the right, starting off with a steep hill (I have always known it as “the old hill”). At the bottom there used to be “properly worked” osier beds and fish ponds. In the summer months when a thunder-storm stopped the harvesting there was nothing nicer for my father than to go down to Tapster Brook, catch a trout and take it home for supper.

Children didn’t get to school in cars or buses then; they had to walk. It was a long way for my father to get to Mrs Burden’s in Station Road; on a cold winter morning the old servant who lived in the farmhouse used to put two sizeable potatoes in the range oven to get hot while breakfast was being eaten. When ready to start for school these were put in his pockets so that he could hold them to keep his hands warm.

The headmaster of Lapworth School was a forward-looking man; he taught the boys to swim in the canal and had a piece of ground where he showed them how to garden.

After a very long, hard winter a great tragedy fell on Lapworth, on Ash Wednesday, 13 February 1907. The children went to church and then had the rest of the day off so a group of them decided to go sliding on Spring Pit, one of the ponds – despite a warning from the headmaster. Winter was just losing its grip and alas the ice broke and let them in; four were drowned. [See also Mildred Tomlinson’s excellent A Warwickshire Village Church, on sale in St Mary’s.] It was a regular winter occupation to go skating on the canal; my grandfather Bowley was quite good at it. I think he played cricket for Lapworth in the summer.

Lapworth farmhouse was the scene of one of the very earliest appendix operations.
At the age of five in 1897 my father became ill with pains in his stomach and vomiting. The local doctor was called (he came on horseback from Henley, I think) and examined my father. He must have thought it was appendicitis and said he would contact Professor Barling in Birmingham* and ask him to come to Yew Tree Farm. The professor with his surgical equipment arrived by train at Kingswood (Lapworth) station where my grandfather was waiting with the pony and trap. By the time they got to Yew Tree Farm my father was desperately ill. Professor Barling examined him and said he would operate so my father was put on the top of a chest of drawers and the deed done. When the Professor and my grand-father went downstairs afterwards Professor Barling said: “Well, Bowley, I’ve operated but I don’t give much for his chances”. But survive he did; the local doctor called daily on horse-back for some time. Many years afterwards when they had moved to Sherbourne my father was in a dreadful accident involving farm machinery and was taken to Stratford Hospital. When he was getting better he remembered some of the doctors examining him and one pointed to the scar on his stomach saying: “Look at that; it must have been one of the first operations done for appendicitis”.

* Professor Gilbert Barling (above), Joint Professor of Surgery at the then Mason College, a distinguished surgeon and a major figure in the development of Birmingham University, of which he became Vice-Chancellor and, as Sir Gilbert, Pro-Chancellor.