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Life in the Village in the 1920s and 30s

Two Houses

Two descriptions survive of the interiors of houses in the village in the 1930s and they show the differences between rich and poor, living within a few yards of one another.

The Manor

Elsfield Manor
Elsfield Manor

A 1932 copy of the life-style magazine Homes and Gardens features the Manor House occupied by the Buchan family. The article describes the interior:

"Entering from the porch, you come into a fine hall, lined with white-painted panelling, and at the end of it rises a staircase of Georgian type with triple banisters on each tread.’ In the drawing room, which has an air of ‘simple dignity’, there are one or two pictures, an Hondecoeter above the mantelpiece and a Poussin on the end wall – and Georgian style lighting fittings."

More interesting to the writer of the article appears to be the library, which is in the Victorian half of the house, the part built by the Parsons family. Here there is a marble mantel, enormous book shelves stretching from floor to ceiling, a writing desk of generous dimensions and a beamed ceiling, originally painted blue with gold stars "but now discreetly made as neutral as possible". The study on the first floor, an addition built by John Buchan, and where he did most of his writing, had an Aubusson carpet on the floor, windows which look west towards the Cotswolds and Georgian writing desks.

Post Box Cottage

Post Box Cottage
Post Box Cottage

In contrast, George Hambidge, the youngest of eight children, remembers the cottage where he lived from 1923 when his family moved form Kelmscot. His father, having heard that Mr Hatt at Church Farm was paying more than Mr Hambidge was earning at Kelmscott, was given the job at Church Farm. Mr Hatt had a cold bath every morning and his bellow when he stepped into the water could be heard along the village street. The Hambidges’ house was called Post Box Cottage because Mrs Hambidge, a woman of great energy and resourcefulness, ran the Post Office and shop from there. The cottage was reconditioned in 1957 and certainly needed it. Before that, Post Box Cottage had rickety stairs and was so damp it was difficult to keep the wallpaper on the walls. There were three bedrooms and the stairs went straight into the first bedroom.

Mrs Hambidge sold lots of things, including postcards with views of Elsfield. There was a cigarette machine by the gate which George had to fill up. A packet of 20 Players cost 11d so you put a shilling in the machine and there was 1d change taped to the packet. A notice said ‘Teas’. People used to come up from Oxford in summer. The shop sold ice-cream and people loved to sit on the lawn and have tea. There was a damson tree in the garden loaded with fruit in the autumn and a Victoria plum. The damson was cut down before the Hambidges left.

In the shop, there was a lovely cupboard made by the carpenter at the Manor, Mr Hemmings. Mrs Hambidge kept cakes in that. It was possible to order things, and she could get anything for people within the week. She dealt with Grimley and Hughes in Cornmarket Street for groceries and Cooper’s for hardware. In the shed, there was a big tank for paraffin, which was used for heating and lighting. They also kept dog biscuits and chicken feed there for sale in the shop. The shop took up half the living space and was separated by a partition from the living room and never closed. Mrs Hambidge used to complain sometimes, but people called whenever they needed things and they would come to the door at any time. She would extend credit to the end of the week when wages (approx. £3-5s) were paid.

Mrs Hambidge cooked on a double Valor stove with two burners below an oven, all fuelled with paraffin, which may have been the reason the cottage was so damp, as paraffin produces a great deal of water vapour. In the summer, she had a fire outside. She would put meat and vegetables in one big cast iron pot and cook over an open fire. There were two hobs with bars across. The fire underneath was wood or anything else that would burn. The family had most of their Sunday dinners out there because it saved having extra heat in the house and there was more room in the garden than the house.

There was blue aubretia planted all the way up the path on the left and white flowers up the right hand side. There was a chicken run behind the house and Mr Hambidge, who was a keen gardener, grew lilies.


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