Handed Down History from Puttenham

This article describes how Christine Rutter, who lives in Astrope Folly, Puttenham, has become an important source of the history of the village. This has been achieved by collecting documents and photographs and combining these with personal memories of past conversations with the characters who made the community what it is today.

Previous articles in this local history series have featured interviews with long standing residents of Long Marston and Wilstone but we were determined not to miss out on memories of Puttenham in days gone by.

As with Wilstone, there are few residents who can go as far back as the wartime veterans of Long Marston but we were fortunate to find the next best thing. Though Christine Rutter has only lived in the village since 1983, she has managed to acquire much knowledge of the history. This has been achieved through talking to the many characters who made the village what it is today, and building up a fascinating supply of photographs and documents, some of which have already found their way onto our website. Most interesting was a written record of a well- remembered character, Mary Ridpath, describing what life was like for a child growing up in this area in the 1920s.

When I asked Christine how she acquired all this knowledge, she told me that it was mainly through talking to people. Particularly valuable were her Saturday lunchtime chats with ‘John the Butcher’, John Gregory, who ran the butchers shop in Long Marston. Christine would listen to John and other local characters sharing their memories, including Neil Dean and Tom Chapman.

Christine’s memory of the detail of these conversations is remarkable. I mentioned that I was interested in wartime memories and Christine knew all about an incident early in the war – which I had previously heard about in passing – when a car accident caused much sadness in the villages and hit three of the local families very badly. Joe Gregory survived but Tom Chapman (father of the other Tom) and William Newman both died as a result of the accident.

There appeared to be an interesting anomaly that became clear as Christine described her ‘handed down history’ and her own experiences in the village. She made it clear that Puttenham is very separate from Long Marston and there has even been a certain amount of rivalry in the past. Yet some of the long standing families – for instance the Gregorys and the Chapmans – have strong links to Puttenham. The answer of course lies in the Church and its central place in village life; many residents of Long Marston have preferred to worship at St Marys and were welcomed into the various social activities that were organised by the Church and brought the community together.

The earliest example of these activities was the famous Puttenham jumble sale, first organised in 1931. Other popular events were kiddie parties, harvest suppers, gymkhanas, flower festivals and Christmas celebrations. Long term resident Mike Atkin was famous for his Christmas morning ride through the village as Father Christmas on a pony and trap. The old ‘Parish Room’ – also called ‘The Hut’ – used to be the centre of most of these activities. Christine had heard stories of how this old building first came to Puttenham. Apparently it was donated to the village by the owner of Pendley Manor in 1917 but the donation did not include transport costs. Old Tom Chapman and another farmer went to collect the building from Pendley and brought it to Puttenham on a dung cart! This building was to become the hub of the village, being used as a temporary school during the war after the Long Marston bombing and for the many social activities until Cecilia Hall was built in 1991.

Cecilia Hall is an interesting example of the affection felt for Puttenham, even by those who have left to live elsewhere. The hall was funded by a legacy from Margaret Vincent who eventually went to live in Long Marston but directed in her will that the funds from the sale of her bungalow should be used to build a new village hall. Another example is Joan, daughter of William Newman – killed in that wartime car crash – who had to leave Puttenham after her father died but continued to be a major part of life in Puttenham for half a century thereafter.

Joan – a ‘character and a half’ according to Christine – was the inspiration behind ‘Friends of Puttenham Church’ and later the Puttenham Trust. She provided funds through properties she owned and the energy required to raise further funding through the social activities described above. Her most remembered contribution was when she worked energetically to raise funds to improve all aspects of the Church building – which had been described as ‘derelict’ – during the 1960s. Christine worked with her many times after her arrival in the village until Joan’s death around the time of the Millennium.

After meeting Christine, I left feeling that there must be something special that draws people to Puttenham. No pub, no shop, no local businesses, yet it seems to be a close knit community that inspires loyalty, even in those who no longer live there. The answer seems to be in the history, the church and the legacies – both financial and social – that a few committed local characters have left behind. And those who live there now are determined to carry on.

3 Comments on “Handed Down History from Puttenham”

  • Ivor Gregory

    says:

    The car accident described happened in 1943. They were coming back from the cattle market in Aylesbury in foggy conditions. Joe Gregory was in a coma for three weeks and the Welsh nurse who attended to him was Sylvia who he eventually married.

    • TRH Team

      says:

      Thank you Ivor for the additional information, I’ve added it as a link in the main article. Would you be willing to tell us more about the history of the Gregory family in the area? Maybe a written contribution?

  • Robert W. Underwood

    says:

    My father was George Herbert Underwood who after WW2 lived in Bournemouth, Chingford and finally Dunstable, one of his sisters Ella was married to George Ewart (Instantaneous Gas Hot Water Heaters) and they lived at Astrope Folly, Puttenham.
    To my knowledge my auntie Ella was quite a famous West End Performer until she met George Ewart who apparently became quite wealthy when he manufactured the early gas water heaters.
    The Underwood family who lived in Dunstable for many years use to visit our Auntie Ella and Uncle George at Astrope Folly every 2-3 months, then I believe the residence was a rather large bungalow with several acres of land.
    I believe my Auntie Ella and Uncle George were members and regular attendees at the local Golf Club, it was my understanding that my Auntie Ella accidently died (probably at Astrope Folly) from an overdose of sleeping tablets, this would have been probably mid to late 1950’s.
    My father George H. Underwood died in 1986 as of the writing of this posting all four children are still alive, they are Carolyn and Linda who live in Luton, my brother David who lives in Seaford, nr Folkestone and myself Robert W. Underwood (73) who moved to London in 1971 to study and work, moved back to Luton in 1974 to marry Mavis E. Underwood and then in 1979 we emigrated to the Jersey Shore, USA.
    From 1982 thru 2014 I was an Executive Administrator/Vice President at three major NYC, Medical Centers, we have 2 two daughters Rebecca (40) and Rachel (37) and four grandchildren Thomas, Weston, Sophia and Olivia.
    We still live in Toms River, NJ, USA, our daughter Rebecca live 15 mins away with Thomas and Weston and Rachel live 25 mins away in Jackson, NJ with James, Sophia & Olivia.
    Mavis (Mae) and I travel 3-4 junkets/year to Luton/Dunstable as we maintain a residence in Luton, we also travel to Kissimmee/Orlando, FL a couple of trips per year to inspect our rental properties.
    Back in the 1950’s I simply remember great family meet-ups often Sunday afternoons at Astrope Folly, all of us kid use to run all over the gardens and fields.

    “Great Time”

    Robert W. Underwood
    NSPE, ACHE, AIA, ASME, ASCE (Ret, USA)

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