by Stanley Day
During this period, I visited my Aunt, Annie Day, living at The Chestnuts at Townsend, a detached red brick house with tiled roof containing five bedrooms, two sitting rooms, kitchen and larder, but no bathroom; it has since been renamed “The Malthouse” as there was originally a malthouse on the site of the garden. The visit proceeded as follows:
Met by James at Didcot station, after a postcard notifying our arrival; the typical musty smell of the brougham, James’ polished silk hat; past the railway cottages leading to the station; at the Didcot-Harwell road there was a large meadow at the corner, with cows grazing, where prosperous shops now stand; along the Harwell Road, passing through a clump of poplars on each side, when the temperature changed owing to lack of sun; past Alma Barn with the fine view of the Downs; past farm labourers on the road, one sitting on the “lead” horse, with two others following, returning to the farms after a day’s ploughing. On to Blenheim Hill, with bright colours for testing paint on the double doorway of Hitchman the wheelwright at Blenheim Cottage, up Burr Street and turn right along Townsend. Met by Aunt Annie, a rather busybody spinster, a little anxious at the arrival of a young Londoner. A bright fire in the sitting room, Grandma Day sitting placidly knitting in the fireside armchair, with a lace cap and black bombasine dress with small buttons from neck to waist.
Shown up to the best bedroom containing a large four-poster double bed, with a canopy and a deep feather mattress and a rather damp atmosphere. Descended to the sitting room with the kettle boiling on an iron trivet at the fireside for making tea, served with “fatty cake” made by Keat the baker. Oil lamps were lighted later – no radio or television – and one listened to complaints as to the smoky chimney, cherry trees robbed by the birds, mice in the larder, local gossip and so on.
Next morning, pumped water from the well and collected firewood for lighting the self-setting range for boiling water. After breakfast collected up the eggs which were to be found in all directions in outhouses and garden. Viewed the garden, with pleasant smell of box hedges, admired the vegetable crop and picked gooseberries and carrots. Off to Middle Farm to see Uncle Joseph and help with the harvest, leading the heavy carthorses out to the wheat fields. There were no reins in the wagons and one impelled the horse by word of mouth, “gee-oh” meaning turn right, and “come-ee” turn left. Up to the stooks, where labourers loaded stooks onto the wagons with pitchforks. Then to the ricks for unloading, again with pitchforks, onto a horse-driven escalator, three men on the ricks scraping up. Barrels of beer in the fields for the harvesters, and all working with a will. Uncle Joseph arrived in the dogcart with a few criticisms, a sandwich lunch, mostly bread and cheese, and all worked until about 3.0 p.m. when horses and wagons returned to the farms, where the horses were unharnessed and rubbed down. Pigs to feed with swill poured into troughs, a chat with the farm workers, and back to The Chestnuts feeling healthier for the day’s work, if a little tired.
On Sundays there was little activity in the village and all wore their “Sunday best”. At about 10.30 a.m. there was a trickle of worshippers along the footpath to the Methodist Chapel to hear the preacher. About a hundred and fifty people could be accommodated, of which ten per cent were Days. Some twenty farm-labourers and their families sat in pews at the left of the entrance door and all joined heartily in the singing. The usual chat outside the Chapel after the service and back to a hot lunch. A favourite Sunday afternoon walk was to the south end of the village, across Wantage Road, up Winnaway and along muddy footpaths past Baggs tree, over to the Horse and Jockey public house; turn left up over the Ridge where Icknield Way crosses the road, past the reservoir, down to the Folly and back to the village by footpaths through orchards.
This account of Harwell at the turn of the century by Stanley Day is endorsed by a recorded meeting with some of the older villagers in 1985, as follows.