Village Children 70 Years Ago (continued)

In the afternoons some of the older children, on cycles far from new, would ride into Wallingford and fish in the river just north of the bridge, or they might ride, or walk, over Greenhill and fish for roach and perch under the willows west of Shillingford Bridge. Their mothers would have been aware of these journeyings, of course, but when the children were playing in the village or nearby meadows, they would have little idea at all as to where their offspring were. Only near meal times would they mysteriously re-appear.

Sometimes a small group of boys might walk up the Abingdon Road, past the old red-bricked barn (now gone) to pick at the face of the old chalk pit halfway up the Clumps’ road. King’s Copse (now gone), at Frogs Island, would be explored next.

In summer children carrying towels would walk right down to Mackney Brook to bathe and splash about near the old wooden footbridge. As they were now on Mackney Common, they would see nearby a little old barn, which long ago reputedly housed a team of oxen, when they were not ploughing the nearby fields.

Back in the village the older girls, whose names could well have been found in the following - Alice, Doris, Edna, Eileen, Freda, Gladys, Joan, Mary, Peggy, Phyllis and Violet - would gather at the top of the street, in front of Moat Cottage, where the open space was ideal for long rope skipping.

Sometimes they would invite a boy to join them in their game. This invitation would be more readily accepted than you might suppose. Unfortunately, having tired of skipping, they would promptly wind the long rope round and round him, and he would become their prisoner. Fate unknown!

Coloured tops would be flying up and down Brightwell Street, whipped by both boys and girls. The occasional passing of a horse and cart, or cyclist, was of little consequence. One rule to remember: never top spin in wet conditions, as the damp string will bind on the top and send it off in uncontrolled flight, and there was no fun in having to ask a house-holder if you could retrieve your top from somewhere in his garden!

The stream, flowing down the side of Brightwell Street, was always an attraction. ‘Boats’ of all descriptions were sailed and raced down it. Jumping and hopping over it was irresistible. Later, excuses, when arriving home with a soaking wet boot or shoe, were a pure waste of time they had all been heard before!

All games suddenly ceased in early evening, when groups of cyclists, riding two and three abreast, would be seen coming up Brightwell Street. These were the men who had been working all day at the Royal Army Ordnance Depot at Didcot. The children followed their father home for the evening meal.

Later, a crackling wireless set in one corner of the room and an oil lamp in the centre of the table offered few inducements to keep the children indoors. So, weather permitting, they would be out again playing, though this time they would stay near their homes. The younger ones would stay indoors. They didn’t mind strangers so much, but they didn’t like ghosts, witches and the ‘bogey man’!

If bright moonlight was shining through the tall elms that bordered the lane, throwing long shadows over the hedges below, this was ideal for a game of ‘hide and seek’. If the seekers were not having much success, they would call out "Holler, holler or the dogs won’t foller". If this brought no helpful replies, the game would peter out. Figures would emerge from the shadows and after a short spell of blame and counter-blame they would disappear through doorways, some of which were never locked at night. There could just be an exception to this, if they knew where the key was, when, on an evening in late September, the whole family with others, would set out to walk the two miles or so to enjoy all the sights, sounds and music (?) of Wallingford Fair.

Ron Wood

First printed in The Villager (June/July 2003 edition)