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.
There was no piped water until the late 50s, and the sewage system came in around 1950 – what happened before that I leave to your imagination. We remember our dear old lady help saying she didn’t hold with this piped water; she would stick to her well water: “You can see the goodness in it”.
Although many worked in local towns such as Birmingham there was still a considerable number of people employed locally, on the land, the canal, the railway, in shops, as painters and decorators, chimney or road sweeps, taxi drivers, blacksmiths, etc. They lived in the cottages dotted around the village, now mostly converted into larger houses for people who work outside the village.
There is a stream which comes off the fields just at the side of the Boot and goes under the road. In the old days it ran into a little pool on the opposite side of the road – only about “so big” – but you could catch sticklebacks and minnows in it. I haven’t seen sticklebacks or minnows in a stream for years – presumably because of the chemicals that come off the fields these days.
Do you hear larks or peewits in Lapworth now ? There used to be larks on the field at the top of Boot Hill. Peewits came every year to the water meadow in Mill Lane belonging to the Mill House. Sometimes one could hear nightingales in the spinney along Brome Hall Lane. Song thrushes and mistle thrushes with their lovely song were as common as blackbirds today. Tawny owls with their too-whit, too-whoo and barn owls with their staccato screech were common at night, as well as the little owl by day. In the dusk on a Summer or Autumn evening the little pipistrelle bats intrigued me as they would fly round to investigate a raised stick. They are coming back again now.
The cuckoo was common in Spring, even monotonous; I have only heard it once this year. House martins would build their amazing mud nests under the eaves of house and cottage and swallows built in the many barns. The Spring and Summer air was full of swallows and house martins, along with flocks of screaming swifts, all hunting insects round the trees, over the canal and reservoir, or high in the sky, according to where the weather drove their prey.
Before the Second World War, on the rare occasions a seagull was seen people would say: “There’s a storm at sea”. Now they are common. Kestrels and sparrow-hawks were not common; gamekeepers shot them, as they did magpies.
There was a well known institution called Tilers’ Field, on the farm on the right hand side as you approach Navigation bridge – well known to the poor people of Birmingham because Sunday School outings used to come there for a breath of fresh air, to play games and have their Sunday School tea. We used to see them coming from the station in crocodile fashion up to Tilers’ Field. That’s gone a long time ago…