You are in [Themes] [Reminiscences] [Oral History - Transcripts] [Gertrude Barnes, Aug 1992]

Interview with Mrs. Gertrude Barnes (by Pam Haseltine), 2 Charnham Street, Hungerford. 8th Aug 1992.

Gertrude Barnes was born in 1902. Her maiden name was Mundy. Her father was a hod carrier in the building trade. He was also the organ blower in the Parish Church for 25 years on the hand bellows until the church went over to electricity. Gertrude was born in one of the three thatched cottages that stood in the farm land at the top of Priory Road. "That was the end of Hungerford" she said. There was just one more cottage there then the Priory where Mr. Platt, the brewer lived.

The next building development that took place was along one side of Bulpit Lane. These houses have wooden beams between the bricks and are still there today. There were a great many allotments around the area of Fairview Road, Priory Road, 30 where the Catholic Church is and more down by the river at Eddington. Gertrude's father had an allotment for 70 years. Her grandfather was a well sinker and he and his mate died of smallpox which they thought they caught from some pollution in the wells. At that time there were six wells in the Priory Road area.

Gertrude had 8 brothers. Her mother died at the age of 36 having had nine children. She died in 1918 in the bad. influenza epidemic of that year. When her mother died her father was still in the army in France and Gertrude herself was in her first job as Matron's maid at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. Her job was found for her by Mrs. Platt who was the welfare officer in Hungerford. It was always Gertrude's ambition to work in a hospital but she never thought she was going to live in one! She only kept this job for a year because when her mother died she had to come home to look after her father and 8 young brothers. Her youngest brother was just a year old. Her father who was with the army in Ypres couldn't manage to get home until a fortnight after her mother was buried. Her father told the welfare people that he and his 16-year-old daughter would bring up the family so that they could all stay together and they did. Her youngest brother is now 74.

Gertrude went first to the National School in the High Street when she was five and transferred to the Primary School in Fairview Road when she was eight, being one of the original pupils. Her father helped to build the Primary School which was opened in 1910. Mr. Camborne was the headmaster and was very strict but he was a good teacher. Gertrude thinks children at school today should be caned. -H was good enough for her generation, so it won't hurt the present generation. Gertrude had the cane for playing truant and she says it didn't do her any harm - though she didn't want to have it a second time.

Gertrude married in 1924. Her husband was gardener at Standen Manor. They were there for 14 years then moved to Binfield Park where the Jardines lived. They were there until he was called up during World War II. The officials tried to post him as ground staff at an aerodrome but he objected to this. He went to the recruiting office in Heading and said he didn't want to clean up after any airmen, he wanted to do something positive like working on the land and growing food. He proved to them that he could work a tractor and plough so was assigned farm work. Later on he won a certificate for cutting the largest amount of corn. After the war he worked for a short time as river keeper at Hungerford before retiring. He was a very thorough and conscientious worker.

As regards Hungerford, Gertrude loved the place prior to World War II. There used to be lots of fairs in the High Street from the Borough Arms right down to the canal. Everyone from the surrounding villages used to come along in the evenings and the street was full. There were also Whitsun Sports on the common which were very popular. Extra trains would be put on from Kintbury, Bedwyn etc. and the common was full of people. The final event of the sports was a fair on the common to which all the children went.. There were also celebrations at Easter and August Bank Holiday when the band used to play outside the Corn Exchange. They were good times.

Charnham Street has not changed a great deal, though the Wesleyan Chapel has disappeared. St. Saviour's church up the Wantage road was very nice and Gertrude used to go there more than to St. Lawrence's. Bennett's, the agricultural merchants, has been replaced by the Bearwater development. Pre War Hungerford was an agricultural town. There was an old lady, who lived next to the Mundys up Priory Road who worked all summer on the farms. In the winter she spent her time darning the old farm sacks for the firm of Alexander and Brown. Alexanders, who were also coal merchants, had a big farm off the Salisbury .Road.

Gertrude doesn't like the present day Hungerford. Pre war there was a great variety of shops and you could get anything you wanted. Going down the west side of the High Street there was Alexanders, Gingells, Killicks, Alrights, the (Old) post office. The new post office was put on the other side of the road and the International Stores was moved from Bridge Street up to the old Manor House. There was Hawkins, the cake shop with a tea room upstairs. Hungerford had 4 or 5 butchers, 6 bakers, 4 ironmongers, several dairies - "we were never short of milk1.". Several people kept their cows on the common and the cowman, "Floppy" New, used to go up to the common in the afternoon to get the cows down for milking. He made such a noise with his clogs that people complained. It was a real country town.

When Gertrude was a child none of the roads was tarmac sealed. They were mud in winter and dust in summer. One very severe winter she remembers her mother sending her down to the old International Stores in Bridge Street to get some groceries. She had old socks tied over her boots to stop her slipping on the ice, but she did slip and fall, breaking a pot of jam! She also remembers the old forge where Vic Caswell worked. There was also a forge at Eddington and another by the veterinary surgery up the High Street.

When the Mundys lived up Priory Road they had no electricity or main drainage. One day, when Gertrude was being prepared for confirmation the Rev. Gray was coming to see her, so her mother made her scrub, the floor. She opened the door to throw the dirty water out and very nearly caught the vicar with it as he was standing on the doorstep. The dirty water went on the bank but the slops went on the garden for manure.

When Gertrude and her husband came back to Hungerford after World War II she didn't like the town. it was no longer the country market town that she had known in her youth. She said she had no interest in walking down the High Street. Pre war Wednesday, market day, was a special day because a great many people came in from the surrounding villages and everyone was talking and laughing together. Bodmans was a very nice shop.

She regretted the present trend of women working full time and not being at home when the children came back from school. This led to them getting in t6 trouble. When she and her father looked after her younger brothers they never had much trouble with the boys. Her father used to say to them: "If you get into trouble you won't be stopping in this house". The police aren't allowed to discipline children today, so the youngsters are not afraid of them. There used to be come strict police in Hungerford. One was nicknamed 'Billy Big Teeth' . He patrolled Newtown Another one was called 'Twiddledum'. He married a local girl. Once when Gertrude and other youngsters were going round carol singing they called at a house near Northview Heights. They had only sung about three lines of the carol when the door opened and a very tall policeman stood there. He looked about 7 ft. tall to the kids, so they turned and ran and never waited to see if he was going to give them any money. Gertrude thought he must have had a good laugh after they had gone.

Children would be a lot better behaved today if there were more teachers like Mr. Camborne. If you deserved the cane - you had the cane - six strokes too!

See also:

- Oral History / Audio Archives