First Motor Horn
I remember hearing my first motor horn, when, as a child, we were standing in the street and heard what we thought was a woman screaming; weren’t we relieved when a man came up and told us that it was a motor car sounding its horn, going down the main road (A43).
The first time we heard a radio was when the villagers were invited by the late E M Alexander Esq. to go up to his house one evening and listen-in. [Note: this house – “Mortimers” is situated in Rectory Lane and overlooks the “Leys”].My husband and I, with others, stood outside his window and listened with wonder at this new invention. Little did we think then, that we should one day both see, as well as hear, people many miles away from us.
One of my first memories of Milton was the first Christmas Eve we had here, when a party of handbell ringers came to our house to play carols to us; the vibration in the room can well be imagined. These handbells are still in the village, but silent now, waiting for the day when someone will ring out their tuneful tones again.
At one or other of the big houses, according to who had charge of it, any expectant mother could borrow the “Baby bag”, which was a linen bag as big as a pillow-case, and contained all that a baby would need for a few weeks. The articles were then returned, washed and ironed, ready for the next prospective mother. What happened if two women wanted it together, I could not say.
Old fashioned Remedies
Many a time I have been to bed with a glass of “Treacle Posset”, which was hot milk sweetened with golden syrup, a very soothing remedy for “tummy ache” and a good drink too. Also, a cure for a cold in the “tummy” was a lump of sugar on which my mother used to put Spirits of Camphor, one drop on each side. We also used camphor to rub on aching gums. Another remedy for toothache and neuralgia was to dip a piece of brown paper in vinegar, sprinkle it with ground ginger, and lay it on the offending cheek, cover with a scarf, and I can answer for the relief it gave. Some people used pepper instead of ginger, but you could get a crop of blisters with that. And that bad cough you had – well, cut a swede in half, scrape out some of the middle, put in a spoonful or two of brown sugar, and when it forms a syrup, a tablespoon will ease the most troublesome cough.
Dinner & Pancake Bell
At 12 o’clock noon, the Sexton of the church used to ring a bell at the church to let us all know it was dinner time; and once a year on Shrove Tuesday, which was pancake day, he would ring the bell at 11 o’clock to let us know it was time to make the batter for the pancakes, as it should stand for an hour. The last Sexton to do this was Mr. J. Turner, who was also the village blacksmith. He continued this custom until he fell ill and died, and then his wife carried on with this old custom, toiling up the church hill, until at last she had to give up owing to ill health, and that was the end of it.
I can still see in my mind’s eye, men and women on their way to church and chapel services in the morning carrying their Sunday dinners to the bakehouses in the village (there were 3 at one time). [Note: the three bakehouses were located at 21 High St, 43 Green St, and close to 29 High St]. Of course, others used the bakehouse as well. When they came out of church they would call for their dinners, and it was a marvel to me how they knew their own; a few used to write their names on a piece of paper and skewer it to the meat. I have known the wrong dinner to be taken, and “Dad, you’ve brought the wrong dinner” and a journey back to the bakehouse for the right one. There was nothing to compare with those Yorkshire Puddings baked on the floor of the bakehouse oven, with their crisp bottom, rich with gravy from the meat. I can also remember cake-baking days, especially one day when the baker said “Mrs Grey beat her cake with a light heart today”, the cake had risen so much!
Easter Monday used to be a profitable day for Milton children, for horse-racing was held at Towcester, the same as these days; the difference being that, instead of motor cars and buses, racegoers used every known means of transport from “shanks pony”, donkey carts, horse and trap, broughams to “coach and four” complete with coachmen in their livery, one of them with a posthorn sitting on the box, tooting away. We children used to line the main road to watch the fun, but it was on the return journey that brought us in the money, as, according to the state of their pockets, and their generosity, so they used to throw coins to us, as we cheered them on their way home, and what a scramble we had dodging the traffic to pick up the money.
What a bright scene it was years ago, when on Whitsunday, “The Free Gardener’s Club” with their gay regalias on, and headed by the village band, used to march round the village to the church, and after church was over, would march back to stand round the elm tree and give a short concert of musical items. On Whitmonday there was feasting and races held in ‘Halfcraft’. [Note: “Halfcraft” is the area of land in front of the Greyhound public house]. There were good prizes to be won and these were on show days before the event.
Mrs Cockerill was one of the two butchers in Milton; she did not slaughter, but when the pig was killed she would cut it up into various joints and sell it out to her customers. The little shop still stands that she used, but not as a pork butcher’s shop. [Note: the butchers’ shops were at 34 Green St and above 46 Green St].
The yard where the woman butcher had her shop was also occupied by other tradesmen. There was J Turner, the blacksmith; Mr Johnson, a carpenter; F Robinson, a bespoke bootmaker; A Branson; a cooper; and a dressmaker, Miss J Turner. The forge is still standing, but no horseshoing done. [Note: In 2006 the forge was stolen from its position in the wall of the old blacksmith’s yard].
Going to Town
If we wanted to go shopping in town, we could book our seats in the local carrier’s cart, a big clumsy van drawn by a hefty horse. This van was covered in and had two wooden seats facing each other. This van was taken to town twice a week on market days. We would take our seats along with sundry sacks and parcels. The carrier would have his notebook on him to put down the various orders, large or small, which he had been commissioned to get in the shops, and at 10 o’clock off we would rumble. We didn’t think much of it when we had to call at ‘Milton ham’ which was much out of our way, then the ‘Clinton Arms’ and so on until we got to our stopping place ‘The Bull and Butcher’ with orders to start back at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. [Note: Milton Ham is the farm behind Milton Crematorium; the Clinton Arms public house was in Far Cotton, Northampton; the Bull & Butcher public house was situated in Bridge St, Northampton, close to St Peter’s Way].
In the first world war when food got scarce, we perhaps would have word come that there was some margarine to be had in one of the shops in Northampton. We would put our babies in their prams and push them to town, to the shop named, only to be told “Sorry, sold out!” and back we had to trudge without our ‘marge’. Sometimes, however we were successful.
The Little Lady of the Manor House
Miss Caroline Dent was the lady living in the Manor House more than 60 years ago. Often when I was sent on an errand, there she would be sitting with her little feet on a foot stall, a white lace cap on her grey corkscrew curls, lovely rings on her fingers, and mittens on her hands, and she would be knitting stockings for the Seamen’s Mission.
The sideboard that was in that room then, is still in the same place to this day. What a tale it would be able to tell if it could speak! The villagers used to go to the house with their various ailments, and Miss Dent would dose them with homeopathic remedies. When a leg of lamb was cooked in the big range in the kitchen, before they had dinner, a thick slice of the meat was cut out of the middle and sent to invalids; and home-brewed cowslip wine was also sent out, but only to invalids mind you!
There was a spring of water on Miss Dent’s land that was never-failing, and it was fetched by buckets on a yoke and stored in the kitchen. A big tank was kept there to put the water in. The tank had a date on it – 1537. Miss Dent wouldn’t use any other water for drinking or cooking. The same spring water is now pumped to the house by electricity. My sister-in-law was a maid at the Manor House and sometimes she would go to the spring with a bucket in one hand and a bowl in the other to keech the water out. Sometimes a trail of geese would follow her; she would fill her bucket, put some in the bowl stretched out behind her to appease the geese, of which she was very much afraid.
Miss Dent had an elderly maid living with her named Jessie. She also kept a top hat hanging in the hall to ward off unwanted callers. She had, too, a fine tom-cat which she named “Countess” so that there would be no question of a male living in the house. Unfortunately, “Countess” was the cause of Miss Dent’s death, as she tripped over her (him) and fell; a fall from which she did not recover. Miss Dent was the only poetess that I know of that Milton could claim to have written poems and hymns.
There was a row of elm trees between two fields, trees which could easily be seen from the Manor House. These trees were the homes of quite a colony of rooks. Sir William Ryland Adkins, who was a nephew of Miss Dent, could tell many a tale of the habits of these birds; how they held parliament, and how they would hold court and sit in judgment on a wrong doer. If the sinner was found guilty, he was pecked to death by the other birds. Sir Ryland Adkins had intended writing a book on the rooks, but never found time. Occasionally, when the rooks increased too much, there would be a shoot, and if it was wet weather, the shooters would put whisky in their boots to keep them from catching cold.
It was said that there was a ghost in Milton churchyard, and if anyone was brave enough to go round the churchyard twelve times at midnight it would show itself. But I only heard of one man who tried, went round eleven times and funked the twelfth, so the saying was never proven.
Why was the lane at the bottom of Milton hill on the way to Blisworth so called? Perhaps someone did cut their throats there! I only know that we went by that lane as quickly as we could.
Keeping pigs is not what it was in earlier years. Very many villagers had pigsties, and not so far from the house either! Neighbours would, perhaps, have a bucket to put scraps of food in and peelings to help feed the hungry animals. I remember at home we used a barrel to put the bits in and all washing-up water as well, but we did not have to use soap or soda to wash up with, or it would give the pigs the “scours”. When pig killing time came, the neighbors who had helped to feed the pigs would receive as their reward a nice plate of fry (liver and fat and perhaps a piece of milt to stuff, and a slice of pork) Delicious!
Some of the pig keepers would make pork pies and faggots, salt the sides of the pigs for bacon and legs for ham, and I mustn’t forget the lard that was rendered down from the leaf fat. Some of the fat was melted down with a sprig of rosemary in it; it was excellent to spread on toast. There’s a saying “You can use every bit of a pig except its squeal”. One butcher in the village used to make faggots and cook them on Friday nights. We would take our basins and fetch them piping hot, just right for supper.
Life on a farm
The earliest years of my life were spent on a farm. When ploughing time came, my brother and I, with any other pals we could persuade to go with us, piled into our donkey cart, with some old buckets, and made our way to the ploughed fields to pick up th stones the plough had turned up. We used to get 1d or 2d a bucketful.
The cows on the farm were all milked by hand, and the milk set in pans round the dairy for the cream to rise. When the cream has risen, it was taken off with a skimmer (which was like a perforated ladle) and put into a zinc container. Each day as the cream was added, a little salt was stirred in. Churning day came once a week, and my father would put the cream into a wooden churn and turn it gently until the butter came. If it was winter, Dad would stand the cream in the warm kitchen all night, because if the cream was too cold it would “go to sleep”. It would take a lot of churning with the churn hardly moving. and perhaps a drop of hot water before it would “wake up”.
People would come to the farm for their milk (skimmed milk) morning and evening, and those that had butter would have it popped into the can of milk to take home. When a cow calved, we called the first and second milkings “bisnins”, but I suppose the proper word is “beestings”. A third of them and two thirds milk with a little sugar gently baked was as good as any egg custard; but they seem to be a thing of the past. We never hear now the welcome words “I’ve got a cow calved, would you like a drop of bisnins?”
Milton has always had a good supply of water; pumps and wells to every block of property. I have counted upwards of 50 means of supply round the village, but now with a pipe supply, many wells and pumps are being done away with, which seems a great pity, as the pure, clear water was a great thirst quencher. What matter if a centipede or other insect came up in the bucket. I would rather see that than the yellowish water which comes from the tap.
Another custom that has died out is the tolling of the bell on a death. The bell would be rung three times for a man and five times for a woman; a short pause, and then the age of the dead person tolled in strokes of the bell; another pause, and then the actual tolling.
Old Milton Sayings
- Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight; red in the morning, shepherds’ warning.
- If the moon is on her back, we shall have rough weather.
- If there’s enough blue in a cloudy sky to make a man’s shirt, we shall have better weather
- See a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck; see a pin and let it lie, you’ll have sorrow until you die.
- Seeing the new moon (but not through glass) say “Good evening Mr Moon – a present, soon” three times, bowing each time and you will have a present before the month is out.
- Once a wish, twice a kiss, three times a letter.
Crows flying over
- One – sorrow, two – joy, three – girl, four – boy, five – silver, six – gold, seven – secret never to be told.
Talking about me
- Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.
- While they are calling me they are not calling anyone else.
In a rebuilt wall at the top of Milton, upwards of 50 years ago, there was a bottle which had the record of a law-suit in it, placed in the wall, and when that wall falls down, somebody will find it and read of how law-suits were conducted in the beginning of the nineteen hundreds …. who knows!