Who would have thought that my husband John and I would end up as beggars at our time of life? John worked all his life on local farms, trying to earn enough to feed us. And then, because of his health, he takes longer to complete the tasks required and can’t carry heavy loads so they cast him aside for younger men. And we end up begging for food from anyone, anywhere, every day. And our children can’t support us because they’ve moved away, looking for work to support their families.
We’ve been to beg at almost every house in Long Marston today; we’ve got almost nothing and we’re desperate. The people who used to know us and were once our equals now look down on us.
It’s beginning to get dark; it’s been a sunny Spring day but now it’s getting really cold. We pass the Queens Head Alehouse on the left and hear the villagers inside, laughing and joking, no doubt sitting by that warm coal fire. What we would give to be able to sit by them. We decide that we’ll carry on along this road and try Gubblecote where there are quite a few houses and the Butterfield Farm: John did some labouring work for John Butterfield a few years ago and told me that he seemed to be a decent man.
We approach the door of the farmhouse and John knocks softly. No-one comes to the door so he knocks again, much harder this time. A man opens the door and he has an angry look on his face.
‘What in God’s name do you want at this time of night’ he says, in a loud and angry voice, matched by the expression on his face. ‘I remember you Osborne, if you’re here for a job you’re wasting your time. You’re far too old and I’ve got all the men I need’.
I decide to say something.
‘Mr Butterfield kind sir. I’m Ruth Osborne. My husband’s not here for a job, we’re her to ask for you to help us by giving us some food, maybe some Buttermilk. We’re starving and would appreciate anything you can give us. I can’t tell you how much we hate having to beg but we have no choice, we are desperate’.
He looks at me as if I’ve just crawled out of something. He replies:
‘I have no time for beggars, particularly strange people like you. Have you any idea what it’s like trying to make a living by farming these days? But I don’t go around asking others to help me. You can just b****** off and don’t come back or I’ll set my dogs on you’
John and I look at each other in despair. I am just about to reply but he shakes his head and indicates for me to turn around and leave. As we open the farmhouse gate, Butterfield shouts at us again:
‘You beggars sicken me. Why should hard working folk like me pay for you to scrounge. What do you think I pay the poor tax for?’
My husband is well known for his temper and turns around to shout back at this awful man. But I put my hand on his arm and tell him that it is a waste of time and we should go.
‘Just leave him alone’, I say to John. ‘People like him will rot in hell and damnation one day and they deserve it. A curse on him and his farm I say.’
Butterfield shouts again to me.
‘What did you say about me, you witch?’
‘I wasn’t talking to you’ I reply.
We both make our escape as fast as we can. I say to John:
‘I thought you said that he was a decent man’
‘He was when I worked for him and he needed labour. But I heard from a friend at Red House Farm that Butterfield has not been doing well recently and has lots of debts that he can’t pay. That can make a man bitter’.
‘I wish you had told me that before we went to his door’ I reply, giving him one of my sternest looks.
We decide that we can’t face any more begging for tonight; we turn back and make our way back to Long Marston for another grim night in the crumbling cottage where we once brought up our family. It was once so warm and welcoming. Now it’s just cold, damp and miserable. Just like our lives.
We have used two main sources for our story; Dick Gomm’s excellent history of Wilstone and the Cheddington History group’s equally excellent version of the story which they recently posted on Facebook. As is often the case in research of history, there can be different versions of events and, in that case, we have used the version that fits more easily into this form of presentation.
Episodes published weekly every Wednesday. Episode 2; John Butterfield’s Story; mid April 1751