Beattie’s Laundry in Widford

THIS ARTICLE is extracted from Mrs Beattie Dorken’s original that appeared in Widford’s parish magazine many years ago.  It is now part of the Widford Archives. As a three-year-old in 1900 Beattie Hatton came with her parents and six older siblings to live in the White Swan (in the photograph, with the thatched barn that was used as a bowling alley – now Swan House and Swan Barn).  Her father ran the pub and also did a fish round. Her sister Jennie went off to learn the laundry trade and in 1904 the family set up in business, moving to Medcalf Hill in 1927.  The laundry ran in Widford for 46 years, and then for another four in Hunsdon, before it finally closed down in 1954.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ LaundryDIRTY CLOTHES were collected in hampers from the larger houses in the area. I can remember there used to be four or five from Blakesware.   Water had to be fetched from the river, down Pegs Lane, in a large tank on four wheels pulled by a horse. We used to get port wine barrels from Benskins Brewery in Bishop’s Stortford, and saw them in half to make large tubs in which to soak the clothes. Soap flakes were made by shredding up large 3lb blocks of bar soap. The clothes were then ‘possed’ (pushed down) with a poss stick. After soaking they were wrung out and anything that was extra dirty was taken to be scrubbed. (more…)

Zipping down the Playing Field

1WHAT A lovely summer we have had this year. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did. During the long school holiday it certainly made things easier for those who had to keep children (or in our case grandchildren) entertained. Despite the days out, swimming, cinema etc etc, there were still many hours to fill. Of course they would have been quite happy to sit on the sofa for six weeks glued to their various gadgets but that being strictly limited we constantly dragged them into the fresh air, whether they wanted to go or not. And that was where the field in Bell Lane came into its own, with space, swings and the all important zip wire. They loved it! All I had to do was relax on a bench calling out occasional comments like ‘Wow’ and ‘It’s not bleeding so stop yelling’ – and several hours would pass like a dream. So thank you to the Committee who keep the field in such good order, providing our children with a safe environment in which to have fun and let off steam. I am surprised more people don’t take advantage of it. I am also wondering if that zip wire would take my weight.

M. Clark 

Wildflowers in Widford

This piece was written by a Mrs V I Daintree sometime in the past. We do not know who she is – apart from having the surname of a known Widford family – or when she wrote about the village wildflowers. Maybe there are readers out there who can tell us?

wild-flowerWITH ITS HEDGEROWS, streams and woods, its pastures and cornfields, Widford provides ample opportunity for the study of wildflowers, and altogether about 250 varieties can be found. Some are rare like toothwort and broomrape, both parasites growing on the roots of trees. The green hellebore, the beautiful butterfly orchid and its close and insignificant relation, the twayblade, the dainty crimson vetchling, herb Paris, the star thistle and henbane are other uncommon plants.

January makes a slow start with hazel catkins and dog’s mercury in the woods, followed later by golden dandelion, celandine and coltsfoot. The pink of elm and alder catkins show along the river. Towards the end of March great blue and white patches of violets appear on the railway banks, the first primrose and delicate wind flowers are coming out in the woods, the blackthorn bushes and wild plum are smothered in white blossom, and the bees are busy round the pussy palm. In banks and hedgerows many common plants can be found – red and white deadnettle, groundsel, shepherd’s purse, ground ivy, chickweed and Jack-in-the-hedge with its strong smell of garlic. With the warmer weather the flowers appear thick and fast, amongst them cowslips (or peggles as they are called locally), daisies and buttercups.

Nature Notes

AS YOU READ this you may be just in time to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. This takes place on the same weekend each year – 26 & 27 January in 2013 – and is a vital snapshot of how bird species are doing. This annual survey means any trends can be easily seen and acted upon if necessary.

Feeding the birds has never been more important than during this severe weather.  The help you give them may ensure they survive the winter.  In the severe winter of 1963 half of our birds perished in the freezing weather. Naturalists believe birds learn where food is available and return to these places at the same time each year. The birds bring their young to gardens they have learnt will have food available and so the information is passed on through generations.

As the birds come into breeding condition the feeding you do now will give them the best start.  Of the wildlife that we see in our gardens, birds are capable of the most movement. Many types of wildlife will be born and live their whole lives in a garden and many other birds will choose to feed and nest in our gardens. A suitable nest site, whether natural or ‘artificial’, is just as important for birds as providing food – without one, birds won’t be able to bring up a new brood.

We may think our gardens are separate from our neighbours but to birds they are linked habitats. The size of a garden is not thought to be important, each garden providing a selection of food and habitats. As more land is built on so it becomes vital that areas of garden are not reduced further.

Rural gardens are thought to be even more important than those in urban areas. This is because areas of intense arable farmland are not seen as either food sources or nest sites, and therefore the opportunities for birds and other wildlife are dramatically reduced.  Without gardens many species may no longer exist. There are more ponds in gardens than in the wild; without themEast Angliawould have lost its frogs and toads.

Other birds find our gardens important for food but nest elsewhere. These visiting birds inform us that there are other nest sites available close by. These are the birds that require deciduous woodland and include owls, sparrow hawks, nuthatch and woodpeckers.  Other birds such as pigeons and starlings can be seen flying in flocks over the fields, but only a few of these will visit each garden at a time. On occasions we know birds exist, even though we do not see them. This time of year is when tawny owls start to call to defend their territory, so listen out for them at dusk.

We have had a few rare birds sighted around the village. On the cow meadows a little egret and both barn and tawny owls have been seen. Ginny Brett contacted me to say she had had a long-eared owl in her garden; on advice that these are not native to the UK, the RSPB informed her that it might have escaped from a collection. You may have seen what an eagle owl looks like when Van Hage’s Garden Centre had a resident there.    Janine Wignall

(photographed in Janine’s garden)

Old Friend would like to meet… new friends!

LET’S BE honest – old friends are great:  reliable, trusty, usually there when we want them. They accept us and we them, warts and all! The trouble is, with work, family and other commitments, it’s sadly so easy to take them for granted or even ignore, neglect or forget them.  

Now, old friends don’t just have to be people … The ‘old friend’ in the title is the reason  more than some of us, young or old, were attracted to Widford in the first place and few will deny she remains our best known and loveliest landmark. We mean of course the 12th century building, surroundings and history that make our Village Church – quite literally – ‘historic’ and unique!  The problem is that she, like all old buildings, is constantly fighting a battle against decay and it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that the Church’s own coffers  are constantly struggling to pay for the works required.

This applies to Widford as much as it does to many fine churches, chapels and cathedrals across the land. This was also to some extent the case some 30 years ago when a group of unpaid volunteers in the Village set up an independent charity called The Friends of Widford Church, whose purpose was, and remains to this day, the preservation of the Church’s historic building and environment by raising as much additional funding  as possible.

Monies raised through membership subscriptions, donations and many fund-raising activities have helped fund work as diverse as replacement stonework for windows and doors, and for the War Memorial lychgate, clock repairs, remedying dampness in the chancel wall, an archaeological dig during which Saxon remains were discovered and the creation of a headstone for the grave in which they were re-buried; and, most recently, expenses entailed by the acquisition of land to extend the cemetery, and the hedging around it.

“SO WHAT’S NEW?” you might ask. Well, the Friends and our small group of voluntary committee members have received an infusion of new people and new ideas. These ‘new’ people, whether new to the Village or in some cases longstanding residents, have joined up for a variety of reasons such as “growing concern over the building’s increasing and visible decay and its urgent need for help” (Jo K) to “wanting to preserve probably the first and certainly the finest building we saw when moving here” (Richard & Kerry B, David A).  Others simply “love the Village and want somehow to make a worthwhile contribution to all that’s best about it”.

What is not new is the kind of people we want to join us as Friends and supporters: our appeal goes out to everyone in the Village and elsewhere, old or young, whether or not you are church-goers, Christians, holders of other faiths, agnostics, atheists or whatever. We have to ‘do our bit’ to fight to preserve our history for this generation and those that will follow.

Fine words alone are not enough, though, so we are re-launching the Friends with a host of exciting events appealing to all tastes over the next 12 months.  A refreshed website will, we hope, go live fairly soon, with up-to-date news of events, projects to be funded, a history page, contacts  and galleries doing justice to the Church buildings and other Village views.  A new colour pamphlet promoting the Friends has been printed and will be dropped through letter boxes shortly.  Door-to-door collections for subscriptions and other donations from existing and new Friends will begin again soon.

The last fund-raising event, ‘Down Memory Lane’ on Friday 21st September, was very successful and we are planning more things in the run-up to Christmas.

For more information please contact Peer Towers (Membership Sec) tel: 842265; email: membership@friendsofwidfordchurch; or David Austin, Richard Bearman, Jill and Michael Buck, Gilda Deterding, Mark Dunstan, Jo King, Frances Luck, Sara Saunders.

A parting thought:  Old friends who are taken for granted or feel ignored or neglected often slip away or disappear for good.  Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to our historic old friend!

David Austin  Chairman, Steering Committee

                          Friends of Widford Church – Preserving Historic Widford   Reg. Charity no.278965