One of the challenges of developing a new website of village histories for the Parish Council was to decide where to start. The obvious place was the Internet and the number of excellent potted village histories that have been produced over the years.
These provided dates and events but this was not enough. Written material does not give you a feel for the way that village life has changed over the years. You need to talk to the people who were there and were part of that history.
Clearly longevity provides limits as to how far back this kind of research can go but, from previous work on researching the history of the village show, I knew that there was one family who were there in the immediate post war period and were willing to give their time and share their memories. I made contact and this led to an informative and fascinating session with brothers Alan and David Winfield and their sister Daphne. This meeting provided more than history; it was a story of social and industrial transformation over the last 70 years.
Life in Long Marston in the 1950s
To demonstrate this transformation we need to go back in time and imagine what life in Long Marston was like in the 1950s, a decade which started five years after the war had ended. There would be every reason to think that this might be a miserable time because of post war austerity with none of the technology that dominates our lives today.
Not many villagers had cars, TV was not generally available and foreign holidays were only for the rich. Yet the memories of the Winfields are mainly happy ones, to a large extent because of the social interactions in the village – ‘everybody knew everybody’ said Daphne – and the wide range of activities and entertainments that were provided. One of their most pleasant memories was the Saturday night dance which, after the new village hall was opened in 1956, took place more or less every weekend; ‘always packed out’ was Daphne’s fond recollection.
Apparently budding dancers used to come from all the surrounding villages which had no comparable facility and it was all live music from local groups; Alan remembers the Cordites from Tring as a star attraction. Another attraction was the Village Brass Band which would march through Long Marston in all their glory on special occasions, adding to the spice of village life. There was also a regular gymkhana for local children and their ponies, while parents could relax in the ‘licenced bar’.
And towards the end of the decade, villagers who preferred higher speed activities could go to the airfield to see high standard go-kart racing; this finally ended in 1964 after complaints under the Noise Abatement Act. The only social activities which seem to have stood the test of time are the sports clubs and the Village Show, or at least until last year and Covid. A previous article described how the show, which started in 1936, even carried on during the war years and it is to be hoped that this valued inheritance of earlier times doesn’t fall by the wayside.
Enterprise in Long Marston in the 1950s
The other major difference between the 1950s and today has been the reduction in the number of local businesses that met the needs of villagers. All we have now is the much appreciated Queens Head (when allowed to open); then there were two other pubs – the Boot and the White Hart – and before the war the Rose and Crown too. For a population of less than 500 that was quite a lot of drinking!
But it was the range of other products and services provided that was even more remarkable. Benny Loveday used to run a shoe repair shop and the Winfields recall going to watch this craftsman at work. Emma Gregory ran the bread and cake shop in an old air raid shelter and her iced buns are a particularly pleasant memory.
Less pleasant was the slaughterhouse which operated next to the butchers shop until the early sixties. The Winfields recall that the children used to be asked to stand on the bodies of the cows and pigs to pump the blood out; quite a contrast to today’s kids spending hours on their mobile phones! The butchers shop on Cheddington Lane, run by the Gregory family, continued for many years and was the last of the old shops to be closed in the 1980s.
There were several other shops to meet villagers’ needs; there was no Tesco in Tring then and bicycles and trains were the form of transport for most. The Village Shop was run by Don and Di Dean, the Post Office by a Mrs Bates and even a Chemist Shop too. In addition there was a blacksmith and garage/petrol station run by Joe Bethell. And just to make sure that you didn’t have to leave the village unless you really wanted to, there were lots of deliveries. Jerry Webb would come along with his horse and cart selling milk, a firm called Gowers from Tring would deliver paraffin and cleaning materials and coal was delivered by Jeffries of Wilstone.
Such a different place
This picture of village life in the 1950s was a real insight for me. Though I was alive then, I lived in a city where more people had cars and the opportunities for leisure and sport were on a much larger and impersonal scale. My feeling after talking to the Winfields is that Long Marston seemed a good place to be in the 1950s, when everybody new everybody and ‘see you at the Saturday dance’ was on everyone’s lips. Long Marston is of course still a pretty good place to be even if we don’t have four pubs and the children no longer have fun in the slaughterhouse! But maybe we can learn something from our past.
By Alan Warner