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My life in the village
James Chuck

Oral history recorded by Albert Thom 1983

Chapter One - Memories of my father and grandfather

My old grandfather, Jimmy Chuck, learnt hisself to read but my grandmother never did, though you couldn’t twist her out of a ha’penny. But they made enough money out of laundry work to have those houses in Holloways Lane built and we lived in one end and my uncle George lived in the other end. Five in that row they had and they had their own at Water End, where they did the laundry. That was six houses they had. When he was at home there, my father used to get up at four in the morning to fetch water for the laundry. Out of the stream - there weren’t no well there.

Used to have an old pony and cart to take the washing out with and I think they used to do Salisbury’s. On Saturdays, grandad used to take me with him like and he’d call in the Maypole Shop and get sixpennyworth of bullseyes and give them to my mum and say, “Here you are missus, that’ll keep them quiet for a little while.”

He was a lovely old man. When he got a bit older I used to go down and dig his garden for him. At one time he used to do hedging and ditching in winter time, piece work. He’d make a bit of money, then he’d have a week on the booze, pay somebody to go with him. Then he’d start again.

Did plenty of walking them days. I’ve heard my aunt say that my old grandad used to walk to Cuffley, tree felling there, walk there and back, that’s a good old step you know. He always wore his hat - outdoors and indoors. A bowler, then later a trilby. Wouldn’t take it off for nobody.

My grandmother, I couldn’t stick her a lot, used to sit and watch you, her eyes used to go right through you, you know. Used to go there Sunday nights with my father, take the old dog with us. They’d sit there talking and I used to sit and didn’t say a word and I said something one night and my father clipped me side of the ear and he said, “You speak when you’re spoken to,” and I never spoke again after that, down Water End.

My father used to work for Jimmy Crawford at Potterells Farm, which he rented before he bought it from Burns. He worked there all his life and I remember him telling me he left there once to go on the river down Water End to clean the river out and he couldn’t stick the foreman standing watching him all day long, so he left it and went back to the farm and he spent his life there till he died.

My father, he used to scythe round the fields before ever they went in the fields. Them days they were just binders. Wasn’t like they are today, combines, and it was a crime to go into a field without cutting round with a scythe before you went in. And my father, he could mow a swarth seven foot wide with two men tying up behind and that was pretty good going. The corn was longer than what it is today, they’ve improved on it, so they don’t get so much straw. It was nothing in them days to see corn about five or six foot high and that wanted some pulling through with a scythe.

When he was younger, he used to drink a lot down at the Sibthorpe on his own and he’d come home perhaps at a night time and he’d get hold of the corner of the tablecloth and switch all the things on the floor. I said to my mum, “If that’s what beer does I’ll never touch it”, and I never did.

And the funny thing was, they used to have a saw bench come up to saw the wood up and he used to put the wood to the saw, like. And one day he must have been three parts drunk and the saw had three of his fingers off. He went to hospital and never touched another drop of beer from that day till he died. Whether it was an act of God, I don’t know, but he was a real teetotaler after. And they took him into St. Albans Hospital and he used to smoke his old pipe and they couldn’t stop him smoking in bed so they turned him out before they should have done and he had his fingers off.

He was a tough old character, he was. He was pretty hard, my old dad, but he had a good heart. When I got married there was not a lot of work about, you hadn’t got a lot to eat and it was nothing for him to send round a couple of rabbits, you know, to keep us going. I thought that was pretty good of him.

I remember we got the church charity once. The poorest families had to write to the vicar who chose the most needy case. We received £1. A lot of money.

Albert Thom 1983


Index and introduction
Chapter One - Memories of grandfather and father
Chapter Two - Childhood and school
Chapter Three - Employment and unemployment
Chapter Four - Days out and marriage
Chapter Five - Winter work and tractors
Chapter Six - War time and family details

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