A Few of Betty Dunbar's Memories of St Agnells Farm
I was born at St Agnell's Farm in 1917 and lived there until I married. The orchard was where Astley Cooper School is now. We had cherries, plums, apple, quince, apple, damsons and pears. We had bird watchers there to shoot the birds that ate the cherries so that we had a crop to sell. We also sold some apples and pears.
There was a Dutch barn in the rick yard where I used to help my father working with a pitch fork all day long. You could see Ashridge Monument when the barn was full of corn.
I went to a restaurant for tea one day, you know how they display paintings for sale, and I saw this painting of a Dutch Barn and I said, 'That's a painting of our barn'. My daughter said, 'No. It can't be'. 'Don't tell me that I don't know my father's barn!' It was a painting by Peter Wagon and I went and asked how much it was and it was too much money. In the end someone said to me 'For goodness' sake, go and buy that picture because you'll be so mad if someone else buys and you see it in their house.' So I went into Peter Wagon's shop in the High Street and asked if he still had the picture of the Dutch barn at St Agnells Farm, if so I would like to buy it please. He said, 'Why? It was Stanbridge's Barn', so I said, 'I was a Stanbridge, too', and bought it. So that's how I bought that picture there on the wall.
I don't think I went anywhere else to shop than the High Street. You could get everything there, beautiful clothes, shoes, hardware. There was a men's outfitter. There were three banks, four grocer's, a butcher's, greengrocer and a fresh fish shop and also an International, Home & Colonial, a furniture shop, all selling well known makes. I walked from St Agnells to the High Street.
Peter Scott's glider came down, my daughter came home giggling and when I asked what she was laughing at she said that she had written her name on the wing of his glider.
When I was young we had no electricity, an Aladdin oil lamp only in sitting room, because of danger of fire and went to bed with candles. We had to be very careful with these, once my aunt's hair caught fire. We cooked on a Primus stove with paraffin, dad had to get up early to light the fire.
It was so cold that when you woke up there was frost on the window in ferny patterns and you could write your name on it. The water in the wash basin froze.
We did the washing in a copper boiler heated by wood which we gathered. Whites were boiled, removed, rinsed, blued and put through the wringer. The washing took all day Monday, the ironing was done on Tuesday.
In the way St Agnells is referred to 'Agnells' by local people, so Grovehill House and farm used to be called 'the Grove' or Elworthy's Farm. Fredrick Elworthy was a banker and gentleman farmer who lived at Grovehill House. Fredrick and Harriet's son, Second Lieutenant Sydney Richard, known as 'Dick, was in the Royal Air Force. He had enlisted as a flying cadet in May 1917 and died aged 26 of wounds following a plane crash near Winchester on 1 September 1918.
There was an old man trap outside the front door at the house, not in use any more
I went to Coombrook, a private school in Marlowes. My name had been put down for a place in the Grammar School (now Hemel School)but owing to my mother's poor health I had to leave school to help with the farm house and with farm jobs.
I used to walk to Godwin's Siding, (which is just behind where the sky garage is now) each day to catch the Puffing Annie (the Nickey Line train) for school. One evening, when I got to Godwin's Halt the leather strap that one used to open the window to lean out to open the door was missing, and I couldn't get out. I was petrified and of course the train went on towards the next stop towards Redbourn. There was a load of footballers on the platform and I banged on the window and one of them opened the door for me to get out and I got on the road. I knew that I had to go the way the train had come from and I was hurrying along there when a lorry pulled up next to me and the driver said, 'Can I give you a lift, love?' As quick as a flash I said, 'Oh, no. My father's meeting me.' So off he went and I walked on until I got to the Green Lane (the path to the left of what is now Shenley Road). It was getting dark then and I had to make up my mind whether I would go up the Green Lane in the dark or all the way round Cupid Green to St Agnells Farm. What was I going to do? When I got to the Green Lane I thought I was brave enough to go up by Woodhall Wood so up there I go. Going into our farm gates who should I see in the yard but the lorry that had passed me? The driver had gone into my parents to say 'Your daughter's coming home but she won't get in with me,' and they were all waiting for me to turn up.
In 1971 St Agnells Farm and houses was bought by compulsory purchase and we had to move out. The houses and farm buildings were saved from demolition.
At badminton I was talking with some people and someone wondered who the land belonged to before Grovehill was built. I said 'That was my father's land'.
For years I used to go round all the houses in Cupid Green and all the farms, walking or riding my bike or pushing a pram, collecting for Poppy Day, Sailor's Day, Princess Alexandra Day, the Forces in the war, the District Nurse Service (people paid 4 shillings a year) and many such causes. At that time I went to St Mary's in the parish of Hemel Hempstead as there was no place of religion in Cupid Green at that time.
Around the 1930s when it was time for Cupid Green to have gas the Gas Company said not enough people were interested in buying it. I was only about 14 years old and my grandfather, Joshua Stanbridge, who was a councillor, asked me to get people to sign that they would like to have it laid on. I got their agreement that they wanted it and so gas pipes were laid.
We have got used to the New Town but what does annoy us is when people complain about the mud, or that the cows are noisy, the sound of clay pigeon shooting, or the tractors are working at night. If you live in the countryside that's what it's all about!
People used to come and picnic in Tenacre Green. Woodhall Wood (part of which remains behind Shenley Road) was private and belonged to my father but I used to go in there to pick whatever was in season.
In my lifetime I have seen it all happen, it's what they call progress but I don't really know what that means.