Pen Picture of the Town About Fifty Years Ago
The writer of this absorbing article was born in Rushden, as was his father, and lived in the town until 1903. Since then he has paid periodical visits to his native town and has kept in touch with the place. He now resides at Leyton, London.
The article itself will be interesting to all readers, both young and old, but more especially to the "over fifties" who were born in the town and who have earned their bread and butter in the noisy factories of Rushden.
IMAGINE a sleepy village with a wonderful Church standing on high ground opposite the village green. On this green there stood a chestnutthe village smith, Adam Ginns, lived a few yards away. That was Rushden about 50 years ago.
Since then the tree has been cut down to provide space for a war memorial. My father remembered that tree being planted, and he lived long enough to see the memorial erected with the name of his only grandson included in the list of those who fell in the war to end war".
Canon Barker was Rector of Rushden in my early days, and I remember his death and burial in the churchyard.
Many of the houses which stood in Rushden at this time were built of stone with thatched roofs. Builders had no regard for symmetry, and some of the buildings were parallel and others at right-angles to the roadways. The walls of these houses were put together with very little mortar, with the result that in places they bulged over the footpaths.
Approaching Rushden from Higham Ferrers, 50 years ago, one passed a few cottages, known as "The Rookery," before coming to Mason's Farm, which was situated where the Victoria Hotel now stands. Then there was Denton's Farm, the original farmhouse having stood until recently. Laughton's Farm was where Queen-street now runs, and finally there was Smith's Farm standing where Griffith-street now is. These farm properties stretched a long way towards the eastern end of the village and, with certain exceptions, adjoined.
Not far from Laughton’s Farm were limestone pits. There are still traces of these pits which were afterwards used as rubbish dumps, so that there are now houses in Queen-street which have been built upon innumerable old saucepans and pots and pans.
What is now known as College-street was, in my time, called School-lane because the board school, at which I graduated, was situated there. It was, however, sometimes called Higgins'-lane, Mrs. Higgins being the landlady of the 'Rose and Crown' which stood at one corner. On the opposite corner (Post Office corner) stood a stone and thatched building where we bought our "ha'porth" of sweets when on our way to school. This belonged to Willmotts.
At the other end of the lane, in Duck-street, was another tuck-shop owned by Mrs. Rootham. We used to buy chewing gum (which had just made its first appearance) here, and ultimately a penny packet of very "Wild Woodbines" were bought and shared between four school chums.
By this time the Laughtons had given up their farming business and their estate became a building site for Queen-street and the Rock Estate. All the property and buildings from Queen-street to Newton-road now stand on what was Laughton's Farm, which adjoined the Rectory glebe land. A part of the Rock Estate on the Newton-road side included a large field known as 'Nipping Dale.' This started at a point somewhere near to where the Fire Station now stands, and here, on Saturday afternoons, the lads of the village played Rugger.
It was almost as difficult in those days to find housing accommodation (until the new estates were built) as it is at the present time. This was due to the incursion into the town of numberless operators owing to the introduction of the factory system. Previously the shoemakers and finishers laboured in their own workshops situated at their own homes.
I remember the introduction of a branch of the Salvation Army, and I remember how we boys used to march behind the small band of men while we sang parodies of their songs of praise. We modernised these with 'We'll make the Devil run with a double-barrelled gun,' and others.
The Pyghtles Estate, which was an open space of meadow and park land, bordered on the "back-way" with a hedge and a long row of elm trees overhanging the roadway, which is now known as Park-road. This estate began at a point where the Baptist Church now stands and extended to Harborough Park, and Rushden Feast was held here on several occasions.
Reference has been made to the "back-way" because this road was always referred to thus. It extended from the "top end" to Cave's-row (North-street)the south end was always known locally as the "top end" and the north end was always known as the "bottom end" of the town.
From Rectory-road, during the earliest part of the period under review, there was a narrow pathway with hedges and fences on either side and with several stiles to climb. The last of these stiles was situated where the railway foot-bridge now stands, and the pathway then crossed Mason's paddock to Cave's-row and Higham Hill.
There was a similar footpath leading from Duck-street (at a point where Fitzwilliam-street is now built) to the Wellingborough-road, with a stile at each end.
In High-street, near Denton's factory, there was a high pavement and underneath there was a sort of well or recess containing water which was used by horsemen to water their horses. This well also contained tin cans and other waste, but the water itself was clear and was good for drinking.
The method of road-making was most crude, the only thing modern about it being the utilisation of broken dross from the neighbouring iron foundries. This material was strewn about and made as level as possible, and after being slightly rolled it was left to Nature and the weight of passing traffic to do the rest. I don't think the Parish Council had a steam roller at this time!
By now, shops and business premises were springing up very rapidly. Old dwelling-houses were either being redesigned and converted into shops or demolished and re-built. The dilapidated thatched property opposite the "Rose and Crown" and Cave's factory (under which smart lock-up shops had appeared), were ultimately demolished after the big fire at Cave's factory, which occurred during the dinner hour of a very hot July day in 1901. The flames licked across the street and soon set light to the old thatched roofs.
Rushden Feast was one of the great events of my early days. Then "Flash" George, with his shows and roundabouts, occupied the village green and sold brandy snaps, rock and whelks. There were also cocoanut shies and "Aunt Sallies'" running parallel with the pavement.
Apart from this annual treat there was very little excitement or amusement, Sanger's or Fossett's Circus paid an occasional visit to the place, and Maggie Morton or Inez Howard brought a theatrical company to the "New" Hall, adjoining the Coffee Tavern, during the winter months. What a rush for seats and what excitement there was when such plays as "East Lynn,'' "Driven from home," "The girl who took the wrong turning" or "The ticket-of-leave man" were presented! Bland’s (afterwards Whitney's) "ghost show"a portable theatrealso paid periodical visits find played anything from "Maria Martin" to "Hamlet" or "Macbeth." A coke brazier burned in the stalls to warm the place.
While discussing the question of amusement I should like to mention Pearson's Auction Mart, as it was called, which visited and stayed in the town for weeks at a timemuch to the disgust or some of the tradespeople. This was a boarded structure with a canvas covering and platform at one end of which were displayed the various goods which were to be offered for sale by auction. This platform opened on to caravans which served as living quarters and store-houses for the goods. The crowds which gathered there were first entertained by the assistants, who were very versatile and made quite good variety turns. When the crowd began to receive the feeling that they were getting good entertainment free, gratis and for nothing, the auction sale would commence. In the daytime these assistants would ride round the streets with a team of tiny Shetland ponies, bedecked with ribbons and bells, advertising the sales by auction.
Rushden Feast was a red-letter day in the local football world. Rushden possessed a first-rate amateur football team and always played a match with Kettering on Feast Monday. Factories and workshops closed for the afternoona great event! What excitement and what a gate! This match was something to look forward tolike a cup final. I remember some of Rushden's star playersDavid Baldry (goalkeeper), "Click" Clark, Jack Lilley (back) and Hughie Lewis (forward).
At one time Rushden was very insanitary, having an open dyke which collected all the drainage matter from houses and premises at the back of "The Compass." It then crossed under the bottom of Wymington-road and was again exposed along the front of the school (scholars had to cross by a foot-bridge to the playground). After passing through Sartoris' grounds, collecting on its way the drainage matter from the property on the street side, including that from Skinner's slaughter-house, it was crossed by a foot-bridge leading to Vorley's herbalist shop (where we bought our castor oil, linseed meal, dill water and camphorated oil) at the bottom of the lane then known as Vorley's-lane, or Parish-lane.
It was fortunate that there were such things as floods to cleanse this water-course, if only once a year. The sanitary arrangements were very primitive and there was no proper water supply. Drinking water was drawn or pumped mainly from wells, irrespective of their proximity to cesspools or other waste matter, so one need hardly wonder that there was a serious outbreak of typhoid fever round about 1803. I happened to be a victim and was attended by Nurse Hunt (a dear old lady) who was one of the pioneers of the Rushden Nursing Association, which had at this time only just been formed.
I think that Rushden was one of the last places to discontinue the ringing of noon. The noon-day bell was the Church tenor bell and was rung by Mr. Fisher, a watch and clock-maker, who had the job of winding-up the church clock each day and ringing the noon bell for about five minutes.
Readers will have noticed that I have, in the course of this narrative, mentioned certain alterations to street names, such as Cave's-row (North-street). This was because the Parish Council, whose main object seemed to be to keep down the rates, suddenly decided to become very "posh" and re-named certain properties. Thus Duck-street became Duke-street, Denton's-row, or Cottages, became Woburn-place, Green's-yard became Albion-place, and Drawbridge's-yard became Succoth-place.
There was only one sub post-office (Hewitt's, opposite the Coffee Tavern), and the postal arrangements were very haphazard.
Note: the top corner of the page is missing from this copy - I have attempted to fill in the gaps in square brackets.
If [you sent a] letter away on Sunday or Monday it had to be posted in Hig[ham] by six o'clock.
There were very few dw[ellings on] Wellingborough-road, and there was a terrace of cottages in Wash[brook-road,] the "Oakley" Inn being at the end. It was all open country to I[rchester on] the one side and towards the Nene Valley on the other.
The development of the [Crispin] estate was, by this time, we[ll advanced.]
About this time the Midla[nd Railway] Company, having noticed the [number] of horse-drawn drays engaged in transport of mercantile goods to and from Irchester station, condescended to build a one-line track from Wellingborough to Higham Ferrersfirst stop, Rushden.
Speaking of the railway drays brings to my mind the number of free rides we boys used to get on these vehicles (sometimes we got more than free rides). Perhaps we had a ride on the step at the back of Fred Ette's 'bus, which used to ply for hire between "The Feathers" Inn (of which Mr. Ette was landlord) and the Irchester station, with a cockaded top-hatted driver.
Politically, the town was Conservative (the church people) and Liberal (the nonconformists), and these parties opposed one another bitterly at rural and general elections. At these times there was much excitement and everybody wore the colours of their favourite party.
A similar feeling of antagonism existed between the two schools, the National ("top-end") and the Board School. The Board School scholars were rather jealous because of the extra holidays the National School scholars came in for on Saints' Days, and also because Mr. Vann, the headmaster of the latter school had some sort of a degree which entitled him to wear his mortar-board and gown, after the style of a secondary school master.
There were very few local or other newspapers. We used to depend on the "Northampton Mercury," the "Northampton Herald" and the "Wellingborough News" until the "Rushden Argus" was introduced. Practically the only morning London paper which was read by ordinary working-class people was "The Morning Leader," a four-page halfpenny newspaper printed on pink-coloured paper.
Advertising was done locally, mainly through the medium of Mr. Cheney West, the town crier. If anything had been lost or found, or if anything was about to take place, such as a sale by auction, this gentleman, who also had the job of bill-posting, had the task of "crying" the particulars.
In the event of having a bad attack of toothache it was a question either of going to a dentist at Wellingborough or waiting until Mr. Duplock paid his weekly visit on Friday, unless, of course, Professor Todd (a top-hatted and frock-coated gentleman) should put in an appearance with his landau on the Green. He used one of the landau seats as the dental chair and guaranteed to cause no pain in extricating the offending molar, the charge being sixpencefirst customers free.
There is one other thing I had almost forgotten to mention, and that is the occasional meet of the Oakley Hounds. This was an event looked forward to by some "sports" as much as the Waterloo Cup or the Grand National are by others of the sporting fraternity. This gave them a chance to follow the hounds on foot, or rather an excuse for a day in the country. It was lucky for them, perhaps, that the opening hours of the "pubs" were not restricted, as, of course, they never knew which direction the fox, if discovered, would take.
I have tried to explain as best I can the sort of place that Rushden was. Perhaps I may be a bit out in certain details, but I think those of you who lived in "the naughty nineties" and previously will agree that I have not failed in my attempt to give a fairly clear view of what the social life, at any rate, was like.