Recent History of Burnham Green

Memories of a Village Hedgehog

by Phyllis Smalley (née Archer)

Early days

I was born in the early 1920’s at Burnham Green.  My father was born in this village in Datchworth Parish, as were his parents before him.  The village actually belonged to four parishes, Welwyn, Digswell, Tewin and Datchworth.  We lived in a tied cottage, my grandfather was a local gardener for Lord Cowper at Panshanger House. My paternal grandparents died during the Great War and my father, being the youngest of thirteen children, returned to the house after the War and married my mother. There were outhouses at the bottom of the garden where the washing was done. And the “toilet” was in one of them.  We kept pigs and chickens also.

Our new house

In 1927 we moved across the road to the new council houses now in Welwyn Parish where there was cold running water and a bath.  Previous to this, water was fetched from the waterpump outside a row of farm cottages.  It had a large lion head and a handle was pumped up and down and the water came from the lion’s mouth. In frosty weather, a fire was lit, usually of newspaper, to thaw the tap.

We had a big brick copper in the bathroom and a fire had to be lit to heat the water, which had to be bucketed from the bath for the washing and for our baths – Friday night only in those days – which was also the time we lined up, all seven of us, for our weekly dose of liquorice powder.

The new house had a large garden which my father (me Dad) cultivated.  He was a keen vegetable grower.  When the potatoes were harvested, he clamped them all, a large mound of earth covered them, and they were dug out when needed – a bit difficult in frosty weather!
We had a large barn at the bottom of the garden with a chicken house and run attached.  Today, it would be called a garden shed, but nobody called them sheds then, always a barn.

The house had gas lighting and we had a gas cooker with a 1d meter, but most of the cooking was done on a coal fire range in the living room, which had an oven. The worst thing of all, being the oldest girl, I had to black lead the grate with “Zebra” black lead and the steel on the stove also had to be cleaned with emery paper or with a wet cloth dipped in the ashes.  The steel fender was also cleaned this way. The gas mantles were fragile and always seemed to be disintegrating.  Electricity came much later.

Burnham Green women

The women of the village used to go “wooding”.  I used to go with an Aunt.  We walked to the woods and gathered up all the old wood that had fallen down.  Long bundles were  made, then tied up with string or rope.  The bundles were carried home on our head, but we put an old cushion or pad on our head first.  This wood was mainly used for the copper to heat the water.  Looking back, and at the same time thinking about the antique business today, I shudder to think what was shoved up the copperhole.

There was a flourishing WI in Burnham Green (sorry to report not so today) in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  My mother was a member and I remember her winning a competition for scones, sponsored by Borwick Baking Powder.  Her reward – 6 spoons in a case, of which I am still the proud owner.  The women also used to go potato picking.  After the fields were cleared by the farmer, “us kids” all went prodding the field for any left.  I might add, we were well rewarded!

Burnham Green Farms

There were four working farms in the village and I remember fetching the milk from Burgesses farm every day for 2 1/2d a pint.  I also fetched the milk for a lady who gave me a halfpenny for going.

In the summer, we used to spend most of our time down the fields watching the corn being harvested.  The corn would be cut, pitched out to the machine in a sheath and then about 5 sheaths were stood on end.  These were called “stooks” and were left in the field to dry. The great big threshing machine would come and the farm labourers would pitch the corn into this machine with their pitchforks, separating the hay from the grain which was fed into a sack on the machine. When the corn was being cut, rabbits and hares would run from the field, the farmers would shoot them and often the farmer gave us one to take home.  Mum would be delighted and a good old rabbit stew was enjoyed by all.  We all went gleaning to get corn to feed to the chickens and the straw was used for their nests.

Burnham Green men

The men of the village all had large allotments, as most families were large.  The allotments were always referred to as the “garden field” and really came into their own during the “Dig for Victory” campaign in the Second World War.

The Stink

There was a sausage skin factory in the village and, if the wind was blowing in the direction of your house, all doors and windows were shut.  The stench was indescribable!

Sunday School

A Baptist Chapel (long since gone) was one of the places the children went to Sunday School, also a small Church of England Church, this building still stands although no longer a church.  I went to both Sunday Schools during my childhood. At the Baptist Chapel we had lovely seaside outings.  At the C of E church on Mothering Sunday, we were given small bunches of flowers to take home to our Mum; they would consist of violets, snowdrops and primroses.  This little church had an organ and someone had to stand by the organist and pump a large handle up and down.

Village Shop

We had a small village shop, but mainly we were served by local traders from Old Welwyn and Old Stevenage.  There was “Phil the Baker”, who came from Coulson’s in Old Welwyn in his horse and trap to deliver the bread and someone came round on Saturday mornings with the sausages for Saturday lunch.  Mr Thody, from Welwyn, the fishmonger, used to visit the village twice a week and shout “Alive, Alivo”.  He would let my Mum have a big bag of sprats for sixpence and us kids a bag of winkles for 1d.  Mr Day from Old Stevenage was the butcher.

Bonfire NightIt was a close-knit community and nearly everyone was related in some way or another. Bonfire night was a big event; a large bonfire would be built in the middle of the village green and various Guys would be stuck on the top.  All the village turned out and we all roasted chestnuts and potatoes.