Betty was born in the 1920s and lived, first with her parents, and then husband Robert, for many years. In later life she moved to Great Shelford and now lives in Cambridge Rd. She describes an idyllic childhood, and a moving wartime experience.
As you go over the bridge our house was the one back from the road on the left-hand side, with great decorative chimneys and clock tower. (Betty lived on the Wale Estate.) There were five children -Margaret, Jean, Douglas, myself, and my younger sister Mary. Daddy was chauffeur/head-gardener to Mrs Eaden (a descendant of the Wale family). She lived in the Hall. One night my father called us all into their bedroom because the Hall was on fire. Our house being so close, the firemen had to keep turning the hosepipes on to the corner of our house. For me, a vivid first memory! After the Hall burned down, they didn’t rebuild it, but they did build an extension on the lodge, right on the corner.
The estate took in all the fields at the back and down to the river (after the war it was given to the village). We used to go swimming there. Going up river, the Great Shelford river went through the Mill (Pearce’s, that is), to turn the mill wheels. When the sluice gates were opened, the rush of water caused a large deep pool, where we had changing huts and a diving board.
There were several gardeners on the estate. The house also had stables underneath and a huge hay loft above, next to our bedrooms. There were usually about six horses, owned by the Pares Wilsons from the Manor House on the opposite side of the road, who rented the stables. They did a lot of fox hunting. One time the fox ran into our kitchen door, so Mary and I shut the door and let him out of the front door,the opposite side of the house, where the fox escaped before the hounds found his scent.
We were always getting into trouble. That was nothing unusual! But it was all innocent. Never any damage done. You could go off for a week without shutting your back door. You never locked anywhere up.
Another thing that was wonderful in the village, as far as I'm concerned, was that you'd always got someone there to help. It was like one big family. If someone was in trouble, you could guarantee there was always someone around to help in some way. They always kept an eye on everyone else. It was such a friendly place.
When we were at school, we would go swimming once a week on the Great Shelford rec. We had changing huts down there. So we used to change into our swimsuits. The swimsuits that we wore had to be knitted by ourselves, in a knitting class. I couldn't knit, so I got my knuckles whacked every time because I didn't hold the needles correctly. So I've knitted since. The swimsuits were made with wool. They had a sort of bodice part, and the base, with a crossover at the back. As soon as you went in the river, the straps stretched and the neck part dropped down to your navel somewhere! It was very heavy. They were terrible things.
Another thing we used to love. the farm next to the school was Rodwell's (now Rectory Farm). We had to take a big jug, a metal can sort of thing, on the way to school, and leave it down at the dairy. then we used to go and pick it up on the way home with six pints of skimmed milk. Ever so cheap. So we'd get the milk, and take that home. Sometimes we fell over and dropped the whole lot and we'd go back to the farm. Billy Bye was in charge of doing all the milk. "Come on," he'd say and he'd give us another can, so mum and dad never found out about it.
Then another thing we used to do once a year. All the kids used to go round when they were harvesting. We got paid for hitting the mice as they come out. Killing the mice. So you'd stand there, and we'd all got our big sticks. "I've got one.I've got another one." You'd just go bang. You got paid for them.That was another fun day. Well, for us it was fun, but the poor little mice...but that was the done thing.
The farmer in the village (in Little Shelford) had one of those old snow ploughs. It was like two great big railway sleepers and that trailed behind the tractor. He used to go round the village to take the snow off. But it only skimmed the top layer and then it froze solid. You'd get a sledge...we used to go up and down the Whittlesford Road - we called it the Back Road then - and my brother used to ride the bike, and he used to tow us on the sledge behind him. It was great fun.
We all had stilts. Daddy made us stilts as soon as we could walk. Everyone always had stilts. My brother had his blocks ever so high up,and he used to chase the kids to school in them, which we loved. I'd squeal and squeal and squeal because he was chasing me, right up to the school, round the playground. But we could alls tilt walk. Its good fun.
My husband Robert was stationed in Davey Crescent. He came before Dunkirk. He was in the Eighth Army, a Desert Rat. He lied about his age to get in the Terriers., because his friend joined the Terriers and he wanted to. They were all going abroad. Hi mother, much to his disgust, sent in his birth certificate. He wasn't old enough to go. He was fuming! So his mate went abroad without him. He was my brother's friend, not mine, when we first met. My brother was home for leave from the Air Force and he met Robert the first night he was home. They went out and said farewell every night. So that was 21 days of farewell parties, much to my father's annoyance.
I was working on the telephone exchange at number 30, High Street. One night we had calls coming through one after the other. I suddent y realised they'd come from Dunkirk and they'd arrived in the village here.. Of course, everyone of them wanted to phone home and tell their mum, and of course they had got no money. So I ended up putting everyone through and not charging them. I don't know what the Post Office would have done if they'd known, but there we are.. I think i cried the whole evening. It was heartbreaking, but it was lovely. I had to see the telephone call complete, make sure the other end had answered before I pulled my plug out and left them to get on with it. And many a one answered the other end and they said, " Mum, hello, mum, I'm home." And then you'd hear "oh", a scream and then a bang. Mother had passed out and dad took over.
My dad had a smallholding by the level crossing in Little Shelford. It was, you might say, a hobby. We did flowers mainly. then when they had the house built up there, we had a large glasshouse, which was all tomatoes and lettuces. Sean Smith took all the lettuce . (He ran the VG stores in Woollards Lane, Great Shelford.) He probably came up twice a day to take the lettuce back with him. He come out one morning, took the lettuce down. Then he rung up at 12 o'clock and had said he's sold out, and had we got any more. He was going to call after dinner, but the geese got out. They went right down the whole row and there wasn't a blooming lettuce left. They'd eaten the whole lot so Sean didn't get any.
Another village character was Ganger Oakman. Ganger used to go around and do beet cutting and things like that for local farmers. He was Called Ganger because he arranged gangs for the beet crop or anything else that needed a gang. they'd pull the beetroot up and chop the top off. He used to come and do ours for us. You'd say to him, "How much Ganger?".
"Oh well, so much for an hour. Or I'll do the lot for so and so." You could guarantee that the hours he said it would take him and charge you for,and the price for doing the job, was exactly the same. He was a character.
Courtesy of the Great Shelford Oral History Group