Memories of Moggerhanger

editorial image

Keith moved to 1 Dynes Lane, Moggerhanger from Station Road, Blunham in 1935 when he was seven. His father Geoffrey Lawrence was a carpenter and his mother Gwendoline Little a dressmaker, daughter of Ebenezer Little of Blunham. Both were born in 1906 and had six children - Keith, Celia, Jill, Patricia, Merle, Caroline (Carol) and Ian who all survive today.

Keith went to Moggerhanger Village School where his first teacher was Miss Chapman, a confirmed spinster who had lost her fiance in WW1. He recalls that just before Christmas she would get all the infants to bring in Christmas pudding ingredients that she would use to make a pudding to share.

Keith was friends with Ron Emery, known as Stibby, who he would go scrumping with. Nicknames were a feature in those days and virtually everybody had one, usually for a reason. Mick Craft for example got the nickname Sixpence after accidentally swallowing one.

Miss Markham was head teacher at that time and taught the seniors how to write in copperplate script. However, Keith discovered that the knibs made very good darts. Miss Markham would also take the children for singing lessons, amusingly using a tuning fork while singing ‘me, me, me’ to indicate the right pitch.

Keith was 11 when WW2 broke out. All the children in the village were issued with gas masks packed inside a cardboard box with a carrying cord. Toddlers had Mickey Mouse gas masks which were a colourful red and blue.

The war brought an influx of evacuees and a teacher, Miss Meredyth Church aged 24. She encouraged the girls to knit mittens and balaclavas for the forces, marrying Sergeant Rowe of the parachute regiment who later took part in the D Day landings.

Keith would often help the school caretakers Mr and Mrs Whiteman: polishing desks, filling the coke scuttles and cleaning the clinker from the bottom of the stove. The coke was kept in a brick barn behind the small orchard on the left hand side of the school drive. Keith would also help Mr Whiteman pick the fruit from the orchard which would be stored on racks in a purpose-built barn at the back of the Whitemans’ council house. Keith remembers: “The aroma from the fruit when one opened the door was, to say the least, mouth watering.”

During the war, the Home Guard would practice their manoeuvres in Gurney’s meadow under their own ‘Captain Mannering’, Vic Davison of Willow Hill Farm. Uniforms were ill fitting or non-existent and an odd assortment of arms, from old shotguns to pickaxe handles, were the order of the day, making them have more in common with the popular TV programme than would have been believed.

The regular army set up a gun emplacement on the piece of waste ground opposite Dynes Lane. When Keith’s mother gave them a loaf of bread and a chocolate tart, they returned the favour by giving her a large tin of corned beef. At the time the family could only get tinned spam so it “made a nice change”.

The old vicarage was home to Rev Davies. He had two cars which were kept in the old stables across the yard. The garden between the stables and the school had paths edged with twisted rope tiles. The view from the vicarage looked across the lawn beyond Gurney’s meadow to Sandy and Sandy Hills.

Next to the vicarage was St John’s Church. Keith was in the choir and can remember George Jacobs playing the organ. On occasions he was called to pump the bellows in the vestry.

The licensee of The Old Guinea pub or the One Pound One as it was affectionately called was Mr King, aka Dolly. Dolly used a field edged with hawthorn opposite the church as a market garden to supplement the running of the pub.

As a boy, Keith would often tap on the bay window of the Kings’ living quarters to buy a bottle of beer for his father, a packet of Smiths crisps, a bottle of golden lemonade or the odd packet of Woodbines (that weren’t always for his father).

At Christmas, Dolly would let Keith and his sister Celia stand inside the pub entrance and sing carols. Mup Harding would then take around a hat so that the children were able to buy presents for their parents.

When he wasn’t serving behind the bar, Dolly also ran petrol pumps outside his garage in which he kept his Lanchester car. The garage building had a window which faced Bedford Road and displayed old motor artefacts including cycle spares and puncture repair kits, all dusty and faded. The stone windowsill was worn in the middle from where boys had used it to sharpen their pocket knives while waiting for a bus. Dolly would hire bicycles at a tanner (sixpence) a time. Keith’s other sister Merle once hired one to ride over to Ickwell May Day and on the way back one of her pedals came off.

Further along the road was an elm tree which shaded the first of three thatched cottages with barns forming a square yard with the post office run by the Daniels on the left. The Burridges’ cottage was at the back and Mr and Mrs Rayne (nee Betty Sims) was on the right with a communal water tap in the yard.

The cottage nearest the elm tree later burnt down, witnessed by Keith and his brother-in-law, Terry when they were coming home on Keith’s Norton ES2 motorbike from an evening at the Granada Cinema in Bedford during the 1950s.

The post office and shop was entered through a diamond latticed front porch which had a board seat on each side. The Daniels lived at the back with a private front parlour. There was a red telephone box just down the road.

Keith can remember some of the countryside delicacies he enjoyed, particularly when rationing was at its height, such as sorrel which had an acid vinegary flavour, pig nuts, cowslips, the new leaves of the hawthorn which were known as ‘bread and cheese’, blackberries, haws, sloes (which Keith describes as “tart and made your tongue fur up”), and wild mushrooms from tiny button ones to horse mushrooms which were the size of a dinner plate.

Away from the countryside, rations were not quite as pleasant and included concentrated orange and blackcurrant juice puree which Keith would spread on bread; egg powder or ‘egg muck’, cornflakes known as ‘crippy cracks’, ‘sawdust cake’ which was a poor quality Madeira sponge, jam mostly made from flavoured and dyed marrow, and ‘pom’ - powdered potato which, when Keith first encountered it says it stuck his jaws together.

“The cheese was like soap and was only palatable melted with a dash of Daddies sauce” recalls Keith. And the fruit cake had artificial cherries in it which “left a tang in one’s mouth”.

During the war, rose-hips were collected for their high content of vitamin C and made into rose-hip syrup, considered a tonic. However as a child Keith also found that the short stiff bristles around the seeds made an effective itching powder!

On the north east corner of the crossroads and set back from the main road still stands what used to be the double thatched cottage belonging to the Minneys and the Browns, now converted into one home.

At the end of the Browns’ front garden was a tarred lap-board shed with red pantiles. On Sunday mornings the doors would be opened and a chair positioned in them so Mr Brown could cut hair at a tanner a time.

Almost opposite the Browns’ shed was the Bull family’s village shop where you could buy lemonade, ice cream and sweets. Mr and Mrs Bull and their son Ron moved away after the war and the shop was taken over by Mr and Mrs Buck. It is now a private home.

In those days, milk came from the Halls’ farmhouse dairy and was supplied in a galvanized milk can. The farm was opposite the Methodist chapel in St Johns Road. Keith would often have to bring home the milk, once swinging the can against a telegraph pole and spilling half of it.

Keith left school at 14. His father was working at Deepdale on the fuel tanks there. Tankers of high octane fuel for military planes were loaded onto trains in a siding between Sandy and Potton. Keith also went to work there and one of his first jobs was to drill, by hand, holes to make a handrail for the gantry. An electric drill was out of the question because of the danger of sparks. It was at this time that Tempsford aerodrome was being set up.

When he was 16, Keith and his family moved to 29 Sandy Road, which had been vacated by Roy, aka Whistle, Wagstaff’s parents. By this time, Keith’s father was on service in Burma. However, despite the move, they still had a toilet bucket which needed to be emptied by burying the contents in a hole in the back garden: an ordeal in winter. There was also only a small copper and a fire range to boil water for a bath night for eight. The youngest children would therefore bath in pairs.

Old ‘Grumpy’ Craft and his housekeeper Nancy Tasker, a well-liked Londoner, lived next door. Grumpy would bang on the wall with his stick whenever Keith’s sisters tried to do their piano practice. He owned the only tricycle in the village on which he would hang his walking stick and scoot along much to the amusement of the children in the village.

When he died, Mr and Mrs Gambol moved in and their son Bernard was good on the keyboard. Their parents acquired an organ for him from the village chapel which was so big it had to be put in their barn but the youngsters enjoyed it when he played popular music on it rather than ‘dreary hymns’.

Keith enjoyed going to dances in the village hall. The band consisted of Clifford, aka Puff, Watts on piano, Billy Wilsher on the fiddle, and Doug Dean on the drums with “sticks twirling and cymbals crashing”. Billy lived in a small thatched cottage along a short lane next to the council houses with his brother Ted (Flem).

Another pianist was blind Dai Edwards of Hatch. He was a veteran of WW1, blinded and suffering from shell shock, but still managed to entertain. He would walk from Hatch up Budna Road guided by a stick and his faithful black labrador.

In 1946, when he was 18, Keith entered the forces himself and served in Greece for three years, where he used some of his creative talents to design Christmas cards for the troops. He spent seven years in the army after which he returned to work for De Havilland in Hatfield on the Comet aircraft until they were disbanded after three air crashes due, Keith says, to a design fault with the windows which were square, rather than round, and unable to withstand the forces required of them.

There is an ironic and coincidental connection between Keith, his father and his grandfather, as they all managed to work on three generations of famous doomed transport. Keith’s grandfather, Arthur George Lawrence, moved to Bedford during the depression and worked at the foundry there on the engines for the Titanic. Keith’s father Geoffrey subsequently fitted out the interior of the R101. And Keith himself later worked on Concorde.

Keith moved back to Moggerhanger in the 1950s, finding work at the various companies in Sandy and Biggleswade at that time. He married in the early 1960s and moved to Biggleswade in 1967, where he has remained. Well known locally as a talented artist, model and carnival float maker, one of Keith’s many achievements was having his painting ‘Jose Maria Roa’ exhibited in the Daily Mail’s Not the Turner Prize exhibition in London in 2003.