John Gaunt

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:

The Queen Mother’s hundredth birthday during Millennium year provoked much recall of the events of those hundred years and what life was like in the early 1900s. John Gaunt, (died 22/11/13 and is buried at St Mary’s Lapworth), who lived in the village for many years, recalled some of his memories of those times to Keith for the parish magazine in that year. Here is what he wrote:


The poor were poor and the rich were rich; for the working man the weekly wage was £1.5s (£1.25 in our money); from this they paid into a funeral fund, as it was not right or respectable to go to your grave in less than a glass-sided hearse drawn by two black horses. Life expectancy was about 44 years for a man, 46 for a woman. Pneumonia was the most common cause of death among the elderly.

There was little electric light; towns were lit by gas; in the country, oil lamps or candles. Transport was by steam or horses. In town the smell of horse manure was all-pervasive: my father told me factory girls going to work had to trail their long skirts in the horse manure crossing the road, and with the BO due to lack of bathing facilities the workplace was to say the least malodorous.

What was Lapworth like ? My memory only goes back to 1916. Mr Maisey from Arden Hill Farm brought milk in a large pail on a horse-drawn milk float, and with his pint measure filled our jugs; we then had to strain it through muslin to remove bits of farmyard refuse. He was followed by Mr Perks from Malthouse Farm in Station Lane, now replaced by Yew Tree Close; there used to be a pond along the road between the farm and what is now the new school. Oilman Mr Cashmore brought oil for lamps and cooking stoves, along with all sorts of hardware from spades to floorcloths, in his specially-built wagon (later he had a similar motor-driven wagon, while Burgis and Colbourne from Leamington sent their motor vans with groceries out to the villages).

The brewers’ drays were a lovely sight, drawn by four heavy horses, beautifully groomed. Horses were still so common that my father always referred to the “horse road”: “Don’t walk in the horse road; keep to the path, dear!”

Steam was the motive power, not just for railways; there were quite a few steam lorries – Sentinels with rounded front and vertical boiler and Fodens with horizontal boiler sticking out over the front wheels. I can just remember steam narrow boats on the canals, towing another boat, but around 1919-20 they were replaced by oil engines. Horse-drawn barges were common, too. Lines of these narrow boats used to go up the Stratford Canal, taking cocoa or sugar to Cadbury’s.

The bargee would attend to the lock gates and horse while his wife worked the graceful tiller, dressed in black – queen of all she surveyed. I was told that early on women wore light colours but changed to black out of respect after the death of Queen Victoria.

The Old Warwick Road, not sealed with tar, consisted of stone and mud, carefully rolled flat by a lovely steam roller. In dry weather the odd car would throw up clouds of dust; we always had to stand still while they passed because they were very dangerous. In the early 20s the road was tarmaced: horse-drawn tarpots were heated by coke to melt the tar, which was ladled by hand into watering cans for spraying, after which stone chippings were rolled in by the steam roller. There was no paved or tarmaced footpath – just a path worn into the grass on the side of the road.

The Great War moved things on more quickly; I remember a Zeppelin flying over one night; it had dropped a bomb locally. Aeroplanes were by now well developed, but it was still an occasion to run out of the house to see one pass over.

There was no street lighting; we didn’t need it until after the last war. Children from Kingswood could walk up to school near the church, a mile and a half, by themselves, quite safely. Girls off the train from the King’s High School in Warwick could ride their bikes home to Rowington, Lowsonford or Chadwick End, with just the old oil lamp on their bike and no-one worried about them.

Electric light came in the 1930s; some houses had electric generators (the doctor’s house at The Mount had an acetylene gas generating plant in an outhouse). Before that lighting was by oil lamps or candles.