Neville Markham, who has lived in Godmanchester for most of the last century, spoke with Janet Walker and remembers......
I was born before the First World War, in the old Three Horseshoes pub (now Gatehouse Estate Agents). When we took it over the licence had been taken away and we ran it as an hotel called the Three Horseshoes Temperance Hotel. The first thing I can remember when I must have been about three years old was the First War and the German prisoners marching by every morning to work on the farms. When I was a bit older, about 1919 after the First World War, we had celebrations in Godmanchester, and one of the celebrations was a fancy dress parade through the streets of Godmanchester. I was dressed as John Bull
I went to the school on the School Hill, and the teacher there was Mr Sam Hunt. He must have taught there a great number of years as my father was taught by him. My mother was taught in Huntingdon by Mr Tom Pack. Mr Pack was an excellent teacher, and that's why I left the Godmanchester school when I was 8 years old, and went to Tom Pack's school. It's a building now on the ring road (Brookside), opposite the old grammar school. He was a wonderful teacher, nobody dared do anything wrong at that school. He had a big stick, and an office at the side of all the other classes, and if your teacher thought you'd done something wrong you were sent into the corridor. He used to come out of his office and see if anybody was standing in the corridor, then he'd have you opposite his office where there was a desk. You had to bend over this desk and according to what you'd done wrong, you might get two belts with his stick on your behind, or if it was more serious, you'd get a lot more. I've known boys to get five and six strokes.
On one particular Friday afternoon there was an important football match I think it was a cup game, I can't be sure now. Well the lesson before we left the school to play at Hinchingbrooke Park, he came looking through the window. We were passing notes about the football. Well it should have been silent reading, so he comes in and I was the first one he picked, he said, "What book have you got there, do you know the title of it?" He asked about four of us, so we said the title, then he said, "Start telling me what you've read in the book." of course nobody could say, so we all marched off to his office, we all got a belting. He sent one boy up to Hinchingbrooke Park, and cancelled the match
Another thing I remember when I was at school was seeing all the tramps who used to spend the night in the workhouse near the iron bridge. It was always opened at 4 o'clock, and there were sometimes as many as a hundred sitting there waiting for it to open. They'd go into the workhouse and have a meal, mostly bread and cheese and a mug of tea. They'd spend the night there and the next day they had to do a day's work, which consisted of feeding pigs, tending to the large garden they had, a vegetable garden, and chopping kindling. The workhouse used to buy big loads of railway sleepers, these were sawn up by hand, by the tramps, and chopped into kindling. Most of the shops in Huntingdon, and even farther afield bought the bundles of fire wood and sold them in the shops. Some weren't really tramps, they had come from the North where there was a lot of unemployment and they came down to try to find a job. Some of the cases were terrible, their clothes were ragged and there was cloth bound round their feet for shoes, and they used to walk from one workhouse to another. There were no such things as old people's homes in those days, the only home for old people was the workhouse, and all the old people, remember this quite well, were terrified of going there because I don't think they were treated very well.
I had a milk round to do before started school in the morning. I used to have a bunch of cans, some held a quart, some held a pint, and used to deliver the milk when I went to school in the morning, and collect the cans when I came back at dinnertime. When I came home from school I would have to do that same round again. At night time I had to go in the shed next to the cows and then I used to break up linseed cake, and put mangels through the cutter. There were a lot of buildings behind the back of where we lived, where it comes out in St Anns Lane. There were rows of buildings, so the cows were kept there. We used to keep the cows in the lodges all the wintertime, and if the weather was nice we used to drive them up to Berry Lane where we had two fields. No end of people used to drive their cows, you fancy people doing that today! Then we used to fetch them home to milk about half past three. In May each year, May the 13th, the cows were put on the common. Some only had a few, but others had around 20. We used to milk them on the common, on the right as you go to Huntingdon on the triangular piece near the war memorial. There was a herdsman and he got up at four o'clock in the morning to drive all the milking cows into that enclosure, then all the milkmen used to go with horses and floats, milk the cows, take the milk home and strain it; but hygiene in those days! I've seen a cow do its business in the pail, and they never threw it away! I milked the cows once for old Harry Herbert. He lived in Post Street, he had about 4 cows, and he was ever so ill. His wife came and asked if I could do the milking and I said I would do them after I'd milked mine, so I went a bit early to milk mine, we had about 6 then. This Herbert, one of his cows that I milked had got a cold in its bag, and sort of phlegm came out, so I milked it on the ground. I went back and told her, I said, "that roan cow's got a cold in its bag so I milked it on the ground" - "O she said you don't want to do that! Put it in the pail next time!"
When there was a glut of milk we used to make cream cheeses. The milk that was left was skimmed milk, and I used to have to take what was left to sell, knocking at doors saying, "Would you like some skimmed milk, halfpenny a pint?" I used to go to Bill Peck first, he had a baker's shop where the Comrade's Club car park is now in Cambridge St. He used to take about half of what I'd got in the can for milk rolls and such.
When I was a young lad there were no doctors at all in Godmanchester. In Huntingdon there was Doctor Hicks, old Doctor Hicks I can remember him. I was biking to a scout meeting one night, I think I was nearly School leaving age, and my parents bought me an old second hand bike, but it had blocks put on it as it was too big for me. It was raining pretty hard, and we had oil lamps then, with holes to let the smoke get out. I got to the house next to Island Hall with my hand over the holes, not looking where I was going, and hit Dr Hick's car which had got no lights on it. I was laying on the ground, I felt really bad, and he come out and the first thing he did, he went and switched his lights on, then he looked at me. Well he had a look at me, and said I was all right, and I had to more or less carry this bike, because when I hit the car, it buckled the front wheel, and it wouldn't turn round. It was partly my fault and partly his fault, of course there wasn't good street lighting, only gas; there was no electric until about the mid-thirties
The three biggest firms were Windover, Eddison Bell and Klinger Stern hosiery mills. Windover made the fancy carriages for the upper class. Then when motoring started you'd see these cars being driven to Windover's with just the engine and the frame, and they made the bodies. Other places that involved quite a few people were the flour mills. The old flour mill that was taken down that stood where RGE is now and the big flour mill that's turned into flats. In those days a big traffic was done on the river with barges that brought the wheat to the mills, then took the flour away all over the country.
It was a very good thing that Klinger Stern took over there by the bridge; at one time they employed 600 people, mostly girls, which was a godsend to Godmanchester as most of the girls in the late 1920's and early 30's were in domestic service which was a terrible job. They were on hand from 5 o'clock in the morning, until 10 o'clock at night, and if the upper class that they worked for wanted a bit of coal on the fire, they rang a bell for the maid. There was a row of bells in the kitchen and each bell was numbered and each room was numbered to correspond to that bell. If they wanted a shovel of coal put on the fire, or the curtains drawing, generally one of the lower maids, such as a kitchen maid or scullery maid, had to go up about four flights of stairs and do it for them. All they got for days off was a half day on a Sunday every fortnight, and their wages were from £20-£30 a year. I'm glad those days are over working in the mill was better paid. I can remember the two buzzers going off, Eddison Bell buzzer going at 5 to 8 and 8 o'clock, that was the time you had to be there, and Klinger Stern was the same. You could hear the Eddison Bell buzzer from here. At about ten to eight there were hordes of girls walking along the Avenue. A few had bikes, but there were hardly any cars in the 1930's people started buying motorbikes which were very popular, and there were over 30 independent manufacturers that made motorbikes in this country. Another thing that was on the roads in those days, were steam engines carrying heavy loads from the North. They had solid tyres, and they pulled a heck of a load.
With kind thanks to Neville for his time and Janet Walker for preparing the text from the discussions.