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Life in the Village in the 1920s and 30s

In the 1930s and 40s, many people in the village kept chickens and pigs and one can still see the remains of well built brick pig styes in some gardens even now. Families usually had two pigs, one to fatten up for themselves and one to sell. The pigs were not taken away to be killed. They were dispatched in the garden by the butcher who would arrive on his bike and stick the pigs there and then. George Hambidge recalled that very little was wasted. The blood was caught and made into black pudding and the carcass was chopped up into joints which were put into lead-lined salt trays in the shed at Post Box Cottage. Saltpeter was rubbed in to preserve the meat and after a time the joints were taken out and dried. Almost every family would have a big ham at Christmas

There are a great many apple trees in Elsfield, and often a glut in the autumn. At the Manor, Lady Tweedsmuir made sure that apples were stored for the winter. The stable block, which is now a house, had racks for storing apples and the smell remains in the memory of one Elsfield man Arthur Phipps, now in his eighties.

Mabel Chaulk with Helen and Phyllis
Mabel Chaulk with Helena and Phyllis

Mabel Chaulk, who at the age of fourteen went to work for the Buchans as housemaid, was one of the six children of Frederick Chaulk, ploughman for Jack Brown, recalls aspects of her childhood in Elsfield. As children, they would know when their father was coming home because he always sang – often hymns and "I’ll take you home again, Kathleen". He looked after three horses: Captain, Deddington and Queenie. Initially, the family lived in a bungalow at Sescut before moving to a cottage opposite the Manor. Frederick, who had survived the battle of the Somme in World War One was a proud member of Marston British Legion. He carried the banner, and his children used to clean the brass pole. Mabel links two events: her father joining the reserves in World War Two and having to move to Marston from their tied Elsfield cottage, but it is difficult to see how these two events can be linked, as her father could perfectly well have been on the reserve list without losing his job.

Frederick Chaulk, carter in the 1930s
Frederick Chaulk, carter in the 1930s

Before that, however, Mabel and her siblings enjoyed all the village events. On Bonfire Night, there would be a bonfire. The children would go wooding in Long Wood and Woodeaton Wood. Potato planting and picking was a time when all pitched in to help dad and the Browns (the local farmer). They would steal swedes from the fields, which they cut into rings and dredged with sugar in the belief that the juice would cure a bad cold. They also took fruit from the garden of Pear Tree Cottage which was in ruins and has now completely disappeared.

Mabel’s mother was ill on several occasions and twice had to be rushed to hospital. The Buchans were very kind, allowing Mrs Charlett their cook to make extra lunch and provide the Chaulk children with big milk puddings. They used to watch her skim the milk and make butter balls.

Mr Gatts, the baker from Beckley, delivered daily and Bayards, the fishmongers from Oxford Market, would also visit the village. The children would go out mushrooming and offer them to Mr Bayard for extra pennies.

The  Second World War expanded Mabel’s horizons in a startling fashion. Instead of domestic work, she became a welder and riveter at the Morris factory at Cowley which was by that time making tanks. Mabel met her husband-to-be, Stanley Marsh, in St Giles and they were married in Marston Church in 1942. The vicar of Marston, the Reverend Mortimer, rang the bells, played the organ and took the service, then waived the fee and said it was his wedding gift.

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