We are capturing the oral memories of those who have lived here the longest and know Harston the best.
Bill Hays lived in the High Street and was a Harston resident since his birth in 1920. He died in December 2014. Earlier in 2014 he spoke to Joy Richardson and Peggy Heap.
His family have lived in Harston for seven generations, moving here to farm in the 1770s, living first in a cottage in Button End. The Hays have always been involved with farming, and have seen the ups and downs of agricultural life over a long period.
Bill also remembers talk of the coprolite mining that went on in Harston in the second half of the nineteenth century. He recalls a brick tunnel that had been used for transporting coprolites, that collapsed one day somewhere behind Park House.
Bill’s father farmed at Rectory Farm, Beech Farm and Baggot Hall Farm. The 1920s were a particularly difficult time for farming, which did much better during and after the Second World War. Bill’s father was bankrupted in the 1928-32 depression, and had to give up the tenancy of Beech Farm. He kept the tenancy of Baggot Hall Farm, farming land that was owned by the Hurrells and Jesus College. Bill grew up living with his family in Baggot Hall which his father had bought before the First World War.
Bill started school aged seven at the Perse Prep and went on to the Upper School in 1932, leaving in 1937 at the age of 17, to work on the farm. At this time, they were farming 500 acres and employed 13 men. The first tractor arrived when Bill was 12, but horses were still important and he remembers there being seven to work the land. Harvest was a time for celebration and Bill’s father had all his workers in for the Horkey Feast, held in a barn, after the harvest was gathered in, and would hire a conjuror to entertain them.
The Hays grew sugar beet into the 1980s and Bill remembers it being loaded onto goods trains at Harston station to be taken to Ely. They kept cows at Rectory Farm, and Bill’s father started the milk round with a pony and cart, setting out around Harston at 8 in the morning. Bill still has an old three-wheeled horse-drawn milk float that carried churns, in the days before milk was bottled, from which the villagers filled their jugs. The Harston Dairy soon expanded to serve all the surrounding villages.
Bill’s mother’s family, the Smiths, were the local millers. Bill’s grandfather had the old wooden Harston Mill rebuilt in stone, and the family at various times also had the mills at Royston and Barrington. Bill remembers flour being transported from the mill to Harston Station in covered carts. The millstones were powered by water until the first World War, and then by steam. The Smiths at Harston Mill had the first car in the village.
Bill remembers the Baggot Hall of his childhood as a big rambling house, with a live-in cook and housemaid. It was lit by oil lamps and he had a candle to light him to bed. In the evenings he was sent with letters to the Post Office (then on the corner of High Street and Church Street), carrying a lantern on the unlit roads which had no paved footpaths running beside them. There was no electricity until the late 1930s.
Mains water arrived in Harston around 1938. Before then, people relied on the artesian wells, and several stand pipes around the village, from which they carried water home. Bill’s father had a 220 foot deep well dug in the front garden which overflowed into a fountain, and water was pumped from there to the cattleyard. Before refrigeration, Bill recalls putting milk and butter into the fountain to keep it cool.
Bill cycled into Cambridge to school, or took the bus. His father had a car before the First World War, but cars were few and far between before the Second World War, and the roads were quiet. (Some other villagers remember playing football on the road through the village that is now the busy A10!) On Sunday mornings, Bill went to All Saints, the parish church, where Canon Baldwin and then Revd Ward was the Vicar. In the afternoon all the villagers came out to socialise, in their best suits and bowler hats.
Bill left school in 1937, the year in which Helen Greene wrote her book on the history of Harston. He remembers Helen and her sister Polly, who lived at Harston House, being very sociable. They held firework parties to which all the children of the village were invited. He also has many memories of the Willers, another longstanding village family, who built the Baptist Chapel. They were wheelwrights on the High Street, made coffins and ran the funeral business, and kept the village shop.
Bill had an older brother, Tom, and three sisters – Eileen, Betty and Molly. The three girls went away to school at Burlingham Hall, Norfolk. Molly worked as a buyer in London, and then became a dental assistant. Betty was a field nurse during the second world war. Eileen taught riding. They never married, and lived together in Harston till the end of their lives. Bill had a spell in the army, in the Signals, during the Second World War. His brother Tom remained on the farm as food production was so vital to the war effort. Tom’s family continue to farm at Baggot Hall. Bill married Heather Winder in 1954 and they had two children, Clare and Will.
Bill Hays passed away on 23rd December 2014, a few months after sharing these memories.
Angelina & Tony Gatward
Shared with and summarised by members of Harston Local History Group Jan 2015.
Tony was born on 13th December 1932 in one of three farm cottages in Hauxton. His maternal grandparents, William and Mary Bye, lived in one of the other cottages; his grandfather worked on the farm.
Tony’s paternal grandparents, William and Elizabeth Gatward lived in a thatched cottage opposite Harston Village Hall. Elizabeth’s father was an architect, Mr Blinco (Blinco Grove in Cambridge is named after him). William was a builder founding Gatward and Son’s which, after passing though Tony’s brothers, is still in business today run by the next generation of Gatwards. Tony worked with his father and then on his own in market gardening/farming. (See later).
Tony’s parents moved from Hauxton to a thatched cottage in Harston in a lane known as Sheepshead Row. This became the Avenue and is now called Sheepshead Lane (next to the BP garage). Tony’s father later bought another thatched cottage opposite the Village Hall and his maternal grandparents moved into the Sheepshead Lane cottage. Tony’s parents eventually had six children three boys and three girls, Tony being the eldest.
When Tony was about 17 the family moved to 161 High Street, which had orchards behind. They also bought land from the Hurrells to expand the orchards. Tony’s mother also owned the bungalow opposite (now owned by the Jenks?). When Tony was about 21 the cottages in Sheepshead Row (The Avenue) were demolished.
While living in The Avenue, Tony’s father bought land in Button End and rented land from the Rowley family in Royston. They kept pigs and about 2000 chickens. They also grew vegetables and flowers and had 10 acres of orchards behind the High St houses. The orchards are shown on the 1971 map but have all gone now - Tony himself dug up several acres when it became unprofitable. The remainder were dug up by Pearce and Sons at a later date. Tony’s granddad Bye lived with them at 161 High Street and was still picking plums in the orchards when he was 87. Most of the produce used to go to London from Harston Station.
When he was 24 Tony did national service with the Suffolk Regiment in Bury St Edmunds. During this time he met his wife Angelina, who lived in Haverhill, and they married when he was demobbed in 1959.
Tony has been married to Angelina for 55 years. They lived in Springdean for 53 years, one of a pair of bungalows built by the Gatwards on the left at the end of Button End. They then converted an old barn next to the bungalows and they now live there – it’s called Parkfield. They also own land on the right hand side of Button End which goes behind the other houses and contains a County Wildlife Site where Angelina thinks there may be Great Crested Newts. Tony and Angelina’s daughter now lives in Springdean. There used to be piggeries behind Parkfield and Springdean but the land is now used for a Caravan Club site which Tony runs.
Tony went to school in Harston along with Gerald Ives and Val Joslyn (who was here as an evacuee) – both still live in the village. The headmaster was George Royston who lived in the house next to the school. Main memories of Mr Royston are that he kept ducks and he was a kind man but he was free and easy with the cane. Miss Ashby was one of the teachers.
There were many evacuees from London during the war. Housing of the evacuees was managed by a Mrs Bisseker who lived the large house (The Old House no 25 High St). They were lodged in twos with different families. He remembers Roy Rix and Alan Souter? The school was very crowded but all the children got on well together. There was a woodwork room in the school.
Tony belonged to Harston Cubs which met in the field behind Harston House, where Stockers car sales now is. Tony was invested by Lord Baden Powell.
There used be a lot of agriculture and fruit growing in the village. As children Tony and Gerald Ives used to help the Hayes family with the harvest, Gerald used to load horse driven carts with sheaves of corn and they would then lead the carts along the road. Tony remembers, after the war, the cattle from Baggot Hall being driven to graze on the Button End meadows. Farmer Crow also put cattle there. Tony and Gerald used to help drive cows and pigs from Baggot Hall to Button End. (Across the A10!). Tony also used to help his Grandad cart sugar beet to Harston Station where it was loaded onto railway trucks in the sidings where the builders’ yard now is.
Willer’s Yard was where the entrance to High Meadow now is. The Willers used to be funeral directors, cart builders and wheelwrights; they used to make carts and the wooden wheels for them. Tony remembers watching them put the iron tyres on the rims by heating the rims in a fire to expand them, putting them on the wheel and then shrinking them onto the wheel by cooling them with water. Willers still exists as a building company.
During the war Harston was busy with Canadian, Australian and other nationality soldiers waiting to be sent on postings. The Village Hall was taken over by the military. The area where the telephone exchange is was tennis courts and a bowling green and men were camped here in bell tents. Military personnel also lived in Nissan Huts in the area where Manor Close and High Meadow now is and on towards the Village Hall. There was also a searchlight base where Queens Close is now. The Village Hall was used as a canteen and ENSA concerts were held there.
Tony remembers a plane crash in the war. A British plane went down near New Farm (south on road out of village); two of the crew of eight were rescued. They went from school to look at the wreckage.
Tony watched planes dogfighting over land at the top of the Drift and one pilot parachuted out. He also remembers a German plane, probably heading for Duxford, dropping bombs and being pushed into a ditch full of nettles by his father to get out of sight!
At this time there was a spy based in the village, thought to be guiding planes into Duxford. A lot of soldiers were looking for him and he was finally caught hiding in pigsties, owned by Tony’s Uncle and Aunt, between the Manse and The Drift.
There was a large prisoner of war camp where the M11/A10 roundabout is and Tony remembers many German and Italian prisoners of war working in the fields around the village; they were very friendly and got on well with the locals.
During the war there was an observation post at the top of Newton Hill. This is still there today, on the right as you go towards Newton. It was later developed in the cold war as an observation bunker to be used in the event of a nuclear attack.
After the war Tony and Gerald Ives played cricket on the recreation ground which was then opposite Park House. They used to mark out the boundary using a string from one point to draw a circle. Cricket stopped in this field when the present recreation ground was brought into use.
The Gatward’s can remember when the school field was allotments, The Paddock was glasshouses, and Lawrance Lea was a chicken farm. The land to build Lawrance Lea land was sold for the magnificent sum of £800!
GERALD and JOHN IVES
The brothers Gerald (b.1929) and John (b 1931) Ives have lived in Harston most of their lives. In September 2014, Paul Clarke asked them about their memories.
Gerald and John were born and raised in Harston. Living first in Green Man Lane, they moved to Button End in 1937 and Gerald has lived there ever since. John returned to Harston after working abroad and lives in Green Man Lane where his grandfather, Jimmy Howe, bought a house on a large plot for £140 in 1948.
The Ives brothers were both educated at Harston Village School. They remember a bustling school with around around 20 pupils in a class. Miss Greene of Harston House used to come and help Mrs Richards and ‘Daddy’ Royston run the school. They remember ‘Daddy’ Royston as a very kind man, but a strict disciplinarian who was unafraid to use his cane on misbehaving children. John remembers being caned on his first day because he didn’t want to go to school!
They stayed at the school until the age of 14 when John left to become a welder at Fisons and Gerald moved on to the Tech College in Cambridge for two years where he studied Building. John joined him twice a week at the Tech College to study engineering.
During the Second World War, they remember the Village Hall being used as an army mess, and tanks rolling through the village along the High Street. Apart from that, the roads were very quiet. Both men vividly remember playing football on the road on the now busy corner of Church Street up by the church. One memory sticks out in John’s mind: he and his friends accidentally knocked Ernest Northrop, the Harston House gardener, off his bicycle during one particularly energetic game. As small children they roller skated and played games such as whip top and hopscotch on what is now the A10.
As young boys during the last two years of the war they worked for Tommy Hays at Baggot Hall Farm. John led the horses whilst Gerald loaded the carts with the harvest. They both distinctly remember a fire which tore through the harvest crops one year after a steam train threw clinker from its chimney onto the crops. At the end of the day the boys used to put the horses back in their stable and fill up their water troughs. They were given six pence an hour to help bring in the harvest.
They both talk of a vibrant youth scene in Harston during their formative years and they helped to run a youth club in Church Street. Along with their friend Ray Warren, they organised dances with other local youth clubs which packed out the Village Hall. Other events included guest speakers from Cambridge University, and taking bus trips, often on a double decker bus hired from Bill Long’s Harston-based company ‘Premier Coaches’.
Together John and Gerald grew chrysanthemums and used to exhibit their stock at the Cambridge Horticultural Show and also the Fisons show which usually took place a few days later. The Harston Village Show was one of the biggest around, and the Ives were regular prizewinners for their flowers, fruit and vegetables. They comment that no-one went hungry in Harston during the war because people grew so much of their own food.
John’s career as a welder for Fisons took him all over the world. Having obtained an advanced welding certificate he was sent to work in Greece, a trip for which he had to obtain a passport. From Greece he moved to the Sudan where he worked spraying cotton crops and tells of how he used to swim across the crocodile-infested River Nile. While he was in the Sudan. Fisons was bought out and at the end of his contract with them he returned to England. Upon his return he bought the Harston Garage/Petrol Station, and together with a friend ran it for three years.
Gerald, aged 17, started work in 1946, as a delivery man for the Baggot Hall Dairy, using a horse and cart. After Andrew Bowden bought the dairy business, then based at 49 High Street, Gerald had to learn to drive a motor vehicle. He was a milkman for 17 years until 1963 when he found he could no longer cope with the work. He then supported himself by keeping pigs and having a market garden until he became a postman in 1971. Working out of Eddie Burl’s Post Office, at 28 High Street, he delivered the post around Harston with the help of his bicycle for 23 years until he retired at the age of 65 in 1994.
Having delivered milk and then the post, Gerald probably knows as much as anyone about the changes to Harston’s layout over the years. For example, along Station Road he remembers there being allotments for the Pemberton Arms on what is now now the school’s playing field, commercial greenhouses, a poultry farm and a coal business. He remembers various shops on the High Street including a haberdasher’s, a butcher’s, a General Store that closed and became an ironmonger’s, and also the old police station.