Memories of Flackwell Heath by Barbara Murfin – Cherrypicking with Annie Lorry

Please go to the page “Articles of Local Interest” to see the full story which will be 83 pages when I have added them all! Thankyou so much Barbara.


Cherrypicking with Annie Lorry.

A Family living in Flackwell Heath in the 1930’s 1940’s 1950’s 1960’s and a tiny bit of the 1970’s.
” Hello, my name is Barbara Annie Murfin. The year is 2018. I live in the north of Staffordshire within the Market Town of Leek. The town of Leek nestles at the bottom of the Pennine Chain. Over the tops, local speak, on the other side of the hill is the Victorian Spa Town of Buxton. Just beyond Leek are the wild heather clad Staffordshire Moorlands, rugged fields, bleak in winter full of wild life in summer. There was a time wallabies, escaped ones, roamed the moorlands but sadly no sightings have been seen for years. Leek like most towns grew as a staging post, for changing horses. Leek being between Manchester and Derby. Most of the older, larger pubs had stabling attached. The Potteries, Stoke on Trent just 10 miles south on the A53, famous throughout the world for it household pottery items. Down the same road, and another great transport invention the Trent and Mersey Canal. Thanks to Josiah Wedgwood and friends. Josiah needed a safe bump free way of transporting his fragile pottery, in the days of pot holes and turn pikes. Stoke on Trent is built on red clay and coal. A “ pothole” was made by an artisan potter just digging up available clay from outside his door.

Leek has the River Churnet running around it’s outskirts. The Churnet eventually joining the River Trent. In Victorian times till within recent memory, silk was spun and dyed in Leek. The waters of the River Churnet dying silk Raven Black. Not blue / black or nearly black, Raven Black. When Queen Victoria’s Husband Prince Albert died, Victoria declared full morning dress. Leek was at full stretch to dye all the silk the Royal Court required.

I have lived in Leek since 1973 and think it’s a pretty good place to be. In 2015 I came down to Flackwell Heath to walk around the village with Sally Scargill, from the History Group. There were so many changes since 1973 I asked would it be ok if I wrote my memories down. The answer was yes. So here they are.

At school I had a dreadful problem with writing anything down. So I tried writing very quickly, getting to the end of a piece as soon as possible. Spellings were hopeless, and many words were missed out. The teachers could not read it very well, but I could, and saw no problem. It was not until I taught my self how to use a computer that I realized I am dyslexic. Thank you, thank you Bill Gates, and now as this is written on an iPad Steve Jobs and spell check. So the only way I can record my 60 + years of remembering is to chat to you. Please don’t expect any fancy grammatically correct sentences or clever words, they are beyond me. As I was considered intelligent but thick (!) at school I was channeled towards cooking. It sounds a bit like Downton Abby days, if you were a little slow or thick then you were sent to work in the big kitchens. Of course by the time you became cook your mathematical skills, working out quantities, portion control, and time schedules, writing (ordering), timing, hand eye coordination, and delegation skills were second to none. So as you can see I am, as they say now, way, way out of my comfort zone. Ask me to put on a sumptuous buffet for 300 people, that would be no trouble at all.”
Here we go.

Going south on the A 40 Oxford to London Road turn right at Loudwater. To narrow it down a little, after High Wycombe and it’s way before Beaconsfield. Follow your nose for about half a mile. When the road goes a hard left and follows the river Wye and on to Wooburn, you need to take the lane to the right, going up the hill. Between the Church, St. Peter’s Loudwater, and The Happy Union Pub. Treadaway Hill. Past the station yard over the railway line up the winding, dark steep hill to Flackwell Heath. Near the top by the pond the hill branches into two. Left to the group of cottages called The Common, on the right the main road leading to the main T junction at the village school, and Methodist Chapel. The Centre of the village, Chapel Lane eventually became large enough to make it a cross-road, now I believe it’s a roundabout.

”My name is Barbara Annie Sarney I live at 4 Virginia Cottages, The Common, Flackwell Heath, High Wycombe, Bucks. Post code, what’s a post code? It’s 1952, I am 4 years old.

Really before I start on about what I remember, I must tell you about a very important man in my life. One born in the village, who died sadly too soon aged 58. He only ever lived in three houses in all his life time, never being more than a mile away from the house where he was born.

Simeon George Clifton Sarney. Born June 2nd 1924. That’s just 5 and a little years from the end of the First World War. AND, I could not believe this, 5 years before women aged between 21 and 30 had a vote. History makes old dates and times seem so remote but I now see, it was within my touching distance.

Birth at home as was normal, no National Health then, in a small semi detach house, Prospect Villa, next to the water tower ( old steel one, should I mention. “The water tower’’ again it will always be the steel one, there are a group of bungalows there now) where the Straight Bit joins Northern Woods Road. The last of seven children born to James ( Gentleman Jim) Gent, and Annie Sarney.

As the children were born about two years apart it meant Sim was 14 – 15 years younger than his eldest brother William, also known as Jim. I’ve only found out in the last couple of years his name was William. Gwendolyn followed then Dorothy (nicknamed Dick. )to the family. Dora, Annie, then the terrible twins. Euphan and Simeon. They were not twins but were born closer together than the other children. As small children, one was never found far from the other. Annie sadly died. I don’t know how or how old she was, it was never spoken about. I expect in those times not every child was expected to live a full life. What life and sleeping arrangements were like in such a small house I don’t know. As soon as the girls were old enough they went into service.

Sim’s Dad, known as Gentleman Jim, Gent, a paper maker, it says on my Dad and ‘ Wedding certificate, was clever with his hands and was a brilliant gardener so was never without a job. He would have used the old cart track Juniper Lane to get to work and back. Sadly he had, and died of Consumption, now known as TB. tuberculosis. Granny Sarney, Annie was a Quaker I understand from Marlow.

When Sim was still a small child the family moved to Blind Lane. The new house had been purchased the other was rented. New Prospects. As Blind Lane is now numbered it’s the first house in the first pair of semis next to the bungalow going down Blind Lane from the Green Dragon public house, on the opposite side of the road. The house had a huge front garden and a long garden at the rear, leading to a field and Northern Woods. At the side of the house there was plenty of room for a garage cum workshop.

As I’ve said Sim’s Mum was a Quaker, so did not hold with the demon drink. Sim’s father, Gent, signed the pledge. In the village there was quite a strong band of people called The Independent Order of Rachabites. This was a friendly society, you paid in a few pence each week, should you then be sick and off work you were able to claim a small sum of money to help. If there was a loan on New Prospects to help with the purchase it possibly came from the Rachabites. The National Health and Social Security did not start till 1948. The Rachabites from the Bible and were a nomadic group of people who abhorred the demon drink. ”The work of the devil” so Sim was brought up Methodist. Although the only time he went anywhere near the chapel was to drop us off at Sunday School after Sunday lunch. Methodist Sunday School often being held in the Temperance Hall. Now Chapel Dental Surgery, on Heath End Road.

I have only learnt of Dad’s childhood through Dad, Sim’s story telling. Sim was a great raconteur. Stories of poachers with a never-ending stew pot bubbling away on the stove. Vegetables and rabbits continuously added to the brew. Farmers who never left the village except to go to market, rushing back up White Pits Lane or Blind Lane as soon as they could. An other old chap his windows so dirty he had to keep his oil lamp burning at all times. A bottomless lake in the woods, Northern Woods deep enough for a horse and cart to be lost forever.

The Village was about 2 1/2 – 3 miles long on the chalk ridge, a house each side of the road. Odd tracts going to farms. As a small child I remember grass growing in the middle of many of the side roads. The Lugg family who moved to Highlands, one of the many new builds, in 1958, they remember most roads being single tract.

Sim as a lad helped Stan Hall the milkman with his round. Stan’s farm was the top of Blind Lane, he Stan Hall, lived in a huge bungalow on the Straight Bit not far from the footpath entrance to Jennings field, on the other side of the road, not there now, some houses now built its place. The milk in a large churn with a tap at the bottom, the churn sat on the back of a small cart pulled by a pony. Anyone needing milk would bring out their own jug to the cart for filling. The story then goes the job did not last long as one day Sim did not close the tap completely and the milk all ran away. Indoors milk was kept cold on a marble shelf in a pantry, the only refrigeration a house had in the 1930’s, a cotton or muslin cloth draped over the top. Many of these food cloths had beads sewn around the rim to give the muslin weight to keep it in place.

I seem to think Dad’s childhood was very Just William. Short trousers, long socks, hand knitted, no longer elastic enough to say up his legs, so gathered at the top of his boots. Grubby legs and ankles. A hand me down jumper with darned mending, meaning the jumper was more darns than jumper. A stub of pencil, a bit of string, a special stone, a clean hanky that immediately got dirty the first time it was taken from his pocket.

The older Sarney children perhaps leaving school at 12, had live in jobs, or worked at the factories down the hill. Paper making was a very people intensive industry in the early 1920’s. Not quite as intensive as it had been when one of our forefathers, John Sarney, set out to smash the paper making machines, mechanisation steeling much needed jobs, they were caught sentenced to deportation to Van Deman’s Land. Tasmania. They never left England. Held in a prison hulk, the government repealed the deportation order, they were reprieved from their journey to the other side of the world, and they returned home. Dad had many romantic tales to tell. The John Sarney involved never worked in a paper mill. He was the landlord of the Leathern bottle a pub on Spring Lane on the Bourne End, River Thames side of the village. He encouraged the protesters by giving them a room in which to discuss plans, and I’m sure selling plenty of ale to encourage the flow of rhetoric.

The New Prospects household also had a cat and a Chow, Chow. Dog. The dog’s name was Ruby. The poor cat was put through various children type experiments. One of which had Sim hanging out of the front bedroom window, the poor unfortunate cat upside down held by its legs. When Euphan was ready, lying on the grass, the cat was dropped to see if cats always do land on their feet. I don’t know the out come but it was never tried again, the cat could not be found for days.

Of his school days I know very little. He would have gone to the infants school in the village, more senior education would have been Wooburn. Wooburn because he lived in the Wooburn Parish the school near the bottom of Juniper Lane. On our, brother and I, school report days, we would question him where in class he came. ”Someone had to be bottom!” Yet he had a very logical, practical mind, I think he also suffered from ‘word blindness” dyslexia. I never saw anyone beat him at Draughts though many took up the challenge. He was fantastic at precise practical drawing . Tools, furniture, daily items. He would work at problems, things, ideas until he completely understood them in his own way. He taught himself to use a slide rule, the calculator of the 1950’s, he made it look so, so easy, until you looked at the instrument yourself. It was a ruler with lots of tiny numbers on it, in the middle of the ruler was another ruler also with lots of numbers on it. You held the outer ruler and slid the one in the middle backwards and forwards to calculate what it was you required.
He sometimes mentioned football matches between the youths of each end of the village. I cannot ever imagine Sim playing himself, he had always suffered with asthma. It was not always a good idea to win unless you still had the energy to run home very quickly.
The Jennings family were quite influential in the village. Mr Peter lived behind where Ashton Optician’s. Daisy and Costa Coffee are now 2017. The house now flattened and the large garden built on. Mr Peter with his brother Walter who lived at the top of the Common in the V between The Common and Common Road owned and ran Jennings Brothers, in Flackwell Heath. Mr. Peter was the Butcher. Mr. Walter, he was provisions, the iron monger and petrol pump man. It was the only petrol pump in the village for a long while till the 1960’s. Then a garage was built in Swains Lane. The Brothers or their wives had been to an Ideal Homes exhibition in London, they each had the same house built for themselves. I thought just the one at the top of the Common remained, but I see that’s gone too. (Google Maps) They were very attractive to look at houses but not very practical to live in. Mr. Peter soon enlarged his. Mr. Walter did not.

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  1. Gill Hoare

    Well done Barbara on your memories…our shared interest in writing continues!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Christine Rolfe

    Thank You Barbara.As a fan of family history and living in Flackwell Heath and Wooburn for many years now(ex Londoner) I have really enjoyed all your memories.Oh my husband was born in Wooburn and have followed his family history for many years now.Loved the bit about rabbit stew.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Virginia dyer

    a lovely read,so far.
    Flackwell heath was my home until I was 17.
    I now live in Stafford and spend many a weekend in North Staffordshire (leek) walking my dog!I used to live in the end cottage,on the common,next to Old Bob.
    My mum’s family lived next to the water tower (brick one I think)and also she lived at the top of blind lane.near to a little shop that I remember sold special lemonade!
    Atkins was mum’s family name.mums names Ann.:)
    Flackwell will always be my home…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anita Sheridan

    Thank you, Barbara – this was so interesting.
    My late Father was born in Flackwell Heath in 1908, and we lived in Loudwater for many years. I was born in 1948, and attended Loudwater School, one of my friends there was Angela Sarney?


  5. Great seeing all these comments from people who have enjoyed reading Barbara’s memories


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