You are in [Themes] [Reminiscences] [Oral History - Transcripts] [Betty McCubbin, Jun 1991]

Interview with Betty McCubbin (by Pam Haseltine), Putkins, Newtown, 7 June 1991

Betty was born at the end of April 1908. The day that she was born there was such deep snow that her Father, Mr. Pinckney, had to walk into Newbury with a wheelbarrow to get food. The snow on the roads was too deep for the horses and even the Lambourn - Newbury railway wasn't running.

They left Stockcross in 1910 and moved to Hidden Cottage in Hungerford Newtown. After Betty married she and her husband lived at Inkpen for a time and then at Kintbury and when her Father died he left her the land adjoining Hidden Cottage, on which she and her husband, John McCubbin built a house in the early 1960s. Hidden Cottage was left to Betty's two sisters. They eventually sold it and it "became a nursing home".

In the early days of the century they used to have the Hunt Ball at the Corn Exchange, Everyone attended in their carriages. The carriages would be lined up in the High Street and the horses penned, while the guests danced and the coachmen passed the time at the 'Three Swans'. Everyone would then drive home in the moonlight in the early hours. This probably went on into the 1920s. In those days also one would drive down to Hungerford High Street to shop in the pony cart. One never had to get out of the pony cart because the shop keepers came out to serve you. All shops delivered goods to customers. Amongst the shopkeepers there was Pratt, the Butcher, Alexanders the Grocers, Spackmans and Nicol the Hardware store. If one wanted to go to London one would drive down and leave the trap and horses at the 'Three Swans', where they were stabled until one's return.

Bridge Street and High Street were tarmacced but most of the side roads were dirt roads. Betty remembers the women gathering flints and stones from the fields to lay on the roads. Roadmen would then come along with heavy mallets to break up the flints. The Wantage road was an unmade road until the 1920s. There was not much housing development beyond the High Street and Bridge Street, Charnham Street and Park Street. Atherton Crescent was built between the wars but the great expansion of Hungerford did not begin until 1955 when Priory Avenue was developed, followed rapidly by extensions of the town south and west.

There was a blacksmith at the Forge and another blacksmith at Eddington. They were called Higgins and Wiggins. There was a postman called Hunt who lived at Eddington where the flats are now. Betty once saw in a house at Elcot a horn about 2 ft. long - between a hunting horn and a post horn in length. She discovered that this horn once belonged to Postman Hunt. Every day he would walk from Hungerford, via Eddington, Newtown and Wickham to Elcot delivering letters, then work in a garden there, returning by the same route, blowing his horn as he approached each village for people to bring their letters out for collection.

The train service to London was much more frequent before the war, in the days of the Great Western Railway. Everyone used the train to go to London then. Betty's Father commuted to London every day.

Betty remembers playing golf on the common. There was a nine-hole course for a time - but the cows started eating the balls'.

There were three churches, St. Lawrence's in Hungerford, St. Saviours in Eddington and St. Mary's in Newtown, with a vicar and one or two curates. Betty and her contemporaries were not allowed to play tennis on Sundays until after- church. The first vicar she remembers is the Rev. Tom Gray. He was very involved with the fire service and a great fisherman and sportsman. A very nice man. His wife ran the girl guides. Later Betty and her sister Anne ran the guides with Miss Pratt, who lived at The Priory. The next Guide captain was the policeman's wife, then Margaret and Gwen Nicol. Betty's mother used to have Mothers' Union meetings in her house . The local residents used to have a mixed hockey match on Christmas Day in the field next to the house. The field used to be ploughed by 2 steam engines - one at each end - pulling the double ended plough back and forth. There was an enormous sarsen stone in the field in the way of the plough, so they moved it to the roadside. When Betty and John had their house built they hai the stone moved into their garden. There is another stone very like it on the Common near Denford railway bridge and one on Hidden Farm. Betty has a theory that they are all in line with Stonehenge.

The doctors she remembers were Dr. James and Dr. Starkie-Smith. The surgery was where the Gateway supermarket now is. Betty used to visit the hospital after she left school and take the inmates sweets. She also remembers the tramps who would walk from Hungerford to the next workhouse at Wantage. They used to call in at the house with their tin cans. All you were supposed to give them was tea.

During the first world war there was a glut of fruit, so the government supplied sugar and everyone went to the Ebenezer Chapel in Church St. (Bibi Harris) to make jam. Betty and her other young friends used to go and clean out the pans with crusts of bread which they then ate..

In the early years one rode everywhere. Betty had horses and hunted a lot. One day she met a man who had ridden from Snelsmore to go to a meet at Mildenhall near Marlborough. After a day's hunting he would then ride back to Snelsmore. In those days one could ride almost anywhere over the countrywide. Farming wasn't so intensive, everyone knew how to behave in the countryside and there weren't these big bird-raising areas for commercial shooting syndicates.

The Portal family lived at Eddington House. The Pearces lived at Chilton before the Wards. The Pearces built the school in Newtown. They were very good to the Parish. The Turners lived at Hungerford Park but didn't take much interest in Hungerford.

Betty's first recollection is of her Mother's hunter being led out of the gate to be taken to the front with the local territorial regiment in 1914. The horses had to be walked to the local depot. The Territorials - The Berkshire Yeomanry - camped in the field near their house. The Wards at Chilton owned all the shooting in the area. King George V, who was a very good shot, used to come down. It must have been during the first World War because there was a lot of anti-German feeling. Betty was wheeled down in her pram by her Mother so see the King arrive. Unfortunately, her Mother's dachshund elected to lie down in the middle of the road in front of the royal car, so they all got a good look at the King'.

Footpaths were walked a great deal because there were few cars. Several paths from Hungerford led towards East Ilsley and the sheep fair. Betty remembers some army barracks between Hungerford and Froxfield - somewhere in the neighbourhood of Hopgrass Farm. There was also a spooky pond near Eddington House, because the horses always used to shy away when they came near it. Does anyone know anything more about this?

See also:

- Oral History / Audio Archives