I believe that this work was written in the 1960s and therefore refers to c1900.
n.b Spelling, grammar and punctuation are true to Cam’s original – Ken Morse
Six decades ago, Yorkley Slade was a small hamlet much as it is today. The name Slade – pronounced Slad – means a dell. The hamlet named thus is probably due to the fact that it lies at the foot of the Bailey Hill.
The West Dean Council’s housing estate which lies on the north side of Bailey Hill, and to the west of the Slade, was, at the time of which I’m writing, Forestry Commission land, and growing very fine oak trees. A very ancient Yew tree grew in the midst of the oaks. This housing estate is a part of Yorkley and not of the Slade.
There were very few good roads in existence, apart from those which were known as turnpike roads. These roads connected the Forest towns and villages. There are still turnpike houses scattered through the Forest, but tolls had ceased to be paid before the time of which I am writing. The turnpike roads were kept in repair by a system which required a considerable amount of hard manual labour.
Big blocks of stone were hauled from local quarries by horse and wagon and stacked in heaps by the roadside at different points. The next process was for the stone breaker to come along and reduce the large stones to about egg size. The stone breaker had hammers of various sizes and weights, but even so it was very hard work. I can, as a school boy, even now, visualize one, John Potter – a one legged man – in trousers and vet only, with sweat on his brow, hearing him grunt away every time he made a crack on a stone. When the stones were ready for the road, other workmen came along and wheeled them in wheelbarrows to the part of the road that needed repairing. As there were no steam rollers it was left to the road traffic – horses and carts – to firm the stones, and this naturally took a considerable time.
By-roads were not much more than tracks made by horses and carts (and donkeys too, as the Old Moke was fairly numerous as a cheap means of transport), when delivering coal or household goods to people’s homes.
Pathways through the forest were well defined, as colliery workers had to walk to and from their work. Most of the Slade workers were employed at the New Fancy colliery. There were seven or eight large collieries in the Forest at that time. In addition to the New Fancy, there were Lightmoor, Foxes Bridge, Crump Meadow, Arthur & Edward, Princess Royal and Speech House Road. I am not sure if Cannop was in production then, but the Northern United was not.
When order were slack men often walked to their work and had to return home without having worked because orders were not sufficient for a day’s work. As far as I am aware the workman had no recompense for this fruitless journey. However, this state of affairs was remedied later by an arrangement whereby the colliery hooter was sounded in the evening if there was to be a ‘play’ day on the day following. When orders were plentiful men worked an extra quarter, so that through the winter days the men often failed to get a glimpse of daylight from one weekend to the next. The collier’s life was a very hard one and wages were low.
Owing to the hard conditions of the times, the building of houses was very limited, as it meant a great deal of self denial and determination on the part of the Forester to save enough money to build himself a home. One cannot wonder at the many dilapidated houses scattered throughout the Forest. Very few houses have been built in the Slade during the last 60 years, but during the last decade there has been a forward move in this respect, for not only have new houses been built, but old properties have been very much improved. This is no doubt due to the increased earnings of manual workers, and the rise in the standard of living.
The homes of the people were very clean and simply furnished. Large families were the rule rather than the exception, many families consisting of ten or twelve children. There was of necessity some overcrowding.
Most of the homes had stone floors with large iron grates and ovens at the sides. The backs of the grates were of iron too and the whole brightly polished with black lead. The hearth was cleaned and made white with freestone. When night came white blinds were lowered by a cord on a wheel at the side. From the back of the fire-grate a bar projected from which a large pot could be hung when needed. The Sunday joint was often cooked in front of the fire by the use of an automatic spit that caused the joint to revolve first one way and then the other. Sometimes this was done with stout string, but in that case the good housewife had to be on hand to give it a twist occasionally.
One has to remember there were no motor cars, buses, electric light, nor piped water, sixty years ago. Homes after dark were illuminated by paraffin oil lamps with single or double burners, and either ‘wax’ or tallow candles. The latter was used by miners, as they were easy to fix in the bracket they had in their caps. These candles were oval in shape and were bought by the pound tied in bundles by their wicks.
In the living room of the home a lamp was used, but candles were used when going into other rooms.
When going out after dark a lantern was used which was usually fitted with a candle, although a few people had oil containers with a wick. When a lantern was not available, a jam jar with a candle stuck in the bottom made a fairly good substitute, unless it was a very windy night, then alas, many matches were struck and the language was not too polite.
Drinking water was obtained from local wells, some of which were privately owned, others were on Crown land, known now as Forestry Commission land. The people who had wells on their property, gave freely of their supply to neighbours until their wells reached a dangerous level in times of drought.
There were two wells on Crown land in the Slade viz: the Marsh well and the Slade well. Water for general use was obtained by catching rainwater from the house roof, either in butts or reservoirs.
Water became a serious problem during long dry spells of weather in the Summer. It had to be carried or carted long distances. Calder’s well, in the depth of the Forest at Viney Hill was one source of supply. Another one was the Old Dam well in the dingle near Ned’s Top. One very dry summer I remember going with my father (taking several casks in horse drawn cart) to the Old Dam well for water. There was a shallow spring in the Nag’s Head quarry, where, as boys, we caught tadpoles. In a dry season I have carried many buckets of water from this spring for cleaning purposes. Some people used a yoke for this purpose. The yoke made of wood fitted around the shoulders from which two buckets were suspended on chains. The yoke took much weight off the arms.
Another method was the use of a ‘Square’. This consisted of four pieces of wood nailed together to form a square. By standing inside the ‘Square’ you pressed the handles of the buckets against the frame on each side and lifted. This method also relieved the arms of much strain. In some cases an iron hoop was used with the same effect.
I remember one woman who carried a bucket of water on her head. I can see her now, tall and upright, crossing the green with hands on hips, the bucket full to the brim and not spilling a drop.
As bathrooms were almost unknown, it meant the use of a tin bath, or large pan, in front of the kitchen fire (when privacy could be arranged) to get a weekly bath. Colliers however, due too the nature of their work required a big wash each day. This usually meant in the kitchen by the fire, but I remember seeing a man stripped to the waist, having his wash in a bucket on a low wall outside his home whilst the snow lay round about.
Housewives did not go out to work unless it was to do a day’s washing for an incapacitated neighbour. For this she usually received 2/- or 2/6d.
The housewife was a very busy woman, especially if she had a family. As times were hard and the means of living precarious, households had to provide as much cheap food as possible. Large and well cultivated gardens were the rule. Enough vegetables were raised to provide the family with a supply for one year. In addition to a large garden, most families had a pig in their sty, which was fattened and then killed at the beginning of winter.
It was nothing unusual on a frosty morning to hear the frightened squeal of a pig being led or driven to its slaughter. As a boy I watched the operation many times. It was not perhaps the best of sights for children to witness, but it was fascinating.
The butcher entered the sty with a looped length of rope in his hand, which, (sometimes only after many attempts) he slipped into the victim’s mouth, then wound it firmly around its jaws, presumable to keep the pig from biting him. Then began the process of getting the pig to the slaughtering bench. This operation needed the help of two or three men, who pushed the pig from behind, whilst the butcher pulled on the rope. The pig was then put on the bench lying on its side with the keepers holding it down. The animal’s screams were now somewhat muffled. The butcher then with his knife scraped the hair from the pig’s throat and thrust in his knife. The blood that followed the knife thrust was usually caught in a container to be made into black puddings.
When the pig was dead it was rolled onto a heap of straw, then more straw was put on it and set alight to burn off the hairs. When this was completed it was then put on the bench to be scrubbed clean with water and scrubbers. It was disembowelled and hung in an outhouse for a few days. The butcher then came and after cutting out the joints, the pig was cut in half making two sides for salting. The salting was done on a bench or in some cases on a stone slab. The final process was to hang the sides in the wall of the living room to dry, after which it was used as required. Home cured bacon was delicious as well as being a valuable supply of food.
Most people kept chickens which had free forest range and in springtime it was a common sight to see hens with their brood foraging for food.
Many housewives baked their bread, turning out nice crusty loaves that kept quite fresh for a week. Some houses had large ovens in the back kitchen for this purpose. They were usually heated with a wood fire then thoroughly cleaned with a mop. Dough was prepared in a large pan. A large clean cabbage leaf was placed on the oven ‘peel’ on which was placed a lump of dough. This was the slide into the oven and the peel withdrawn. When the oven was full the door was shut and sealed. It was good to see and smell the brown crusty loaves when they were eventually taken out of the oven and placed on the floor to cool off.
Some folk brewed their own beer and there was scarcely a family which did not make their own wine and botanic beer.
Where large families existed, mother often had to alter Tommy’s suit to fit his younger brother Dick, and Mary’s dress to fit Susan.
Village life in the Slade, like most Forest villages was very insular owing to lack of travelling facilities. Most people had to travel long distance on ‘Shanks Pony’ ie walking. Consequently, partly for this reason perhaps, family life was highly developed.
Some homes had – in addition to the living and general purposes room – a parlour which sometimes contained an organ or piano. On Sunday evenings whilst one of the family played the instrument. The others gathered around and sang well known hymns lustily. As most people were “Chapel”, Sankeys’ hymns were very much in use. There were no Radio or T.V. sets the of course.
When anyone wanted to travel by train, they had either to walk to Whitecroft, Parkend, Lydney or Severn Bridge Stations. The then landlord of thee King’s Head Inn, Blakeney, ran a horse and brake from Blakeney for the convenience of passengers wishing to depart or arrive by train at Awre Junction.
When an unlucky Forester had to appear before the ‘Beaks’ at Coleford Petty Sessional Court for some misdemeanour he would tell his mates that he had to go up through ‘Tyler’s’. By this he meant that he had to go to court, which entailed walking through Tylers Wood which lies between Parkend and Coleford.
Social life was very limited. There were occasional dances at Blakeney and in Viney Hill school during the winter, usually in aid of local charities. Music was supplied by a piano. The lads and lassies had an enjoyable time however. For dancing the men wore gloves and the ladies had their engagement cards. Dancers from the Slade attended these functions, and needless to say, had to walk both ways.
There were usually several concerts in Viney Hill school during the winter to help local projects, local talent being solicited to provide the programme. The day school concert each winter was a popular event. The Programme had to be repeated on the following evening to accommodate the Patrons. The highlights of the summer were the Sunday School treats held at Danby Lodge, in the case of Pillowell Methodist, the Baptist and the Bible Christian, now the United Methodist. The Church of England held treats on the Vicarage field or at Lower Viney.
It was a thrilling scene to watch the long procession of scholars with their teachers, the scholars carrying their tea mugs and waving to parents and friends, they marched to Danby Lodge headed by their banner and the local band.
After the children had partaken of tea, parents and friends were provided with tea also at 1/- per head. Meanwhile the band was playing selections under the sycamore tree, and later in the evening, a few young people enjoyed a dance.
After the tea, games and races were held for the children. A big feature of the day was to scramble for sweets. Jars of sweets were brought on to the field by one or two teachers and scattered in the grass for the children to help themselves. It was great fun for the children and also for their seniors who watched the rough and tumble with much enjoyment. Before dusk began to fall a kiss in the ring was usually formed, and I have no doubt many romance started this way.
Other village highlights were the annual meetings of the two Friendly Societies, viz. ‘The Odd Fellows’ whose headquarters was, I think the Albion Inn, Viney Hill. The ‘Good Shepherd’ was known to us boys as the ‘Red Hankercher’ Club.
On the days of their annual suppers, both Clubs paraded through the village, the members resplendent wearing their respective regalias, headed by their banners and the local band.
‘The Odd Fellows’ parade and supper was especially a great day for us boys of the Slade. I can visualise Mr Wm Everett, the Club Secretary, standing on the wall outside the Nag’s Head, making the roll call before the parade started.
After the parade, supper was partaken in the Nag’s Head Clubroom. I remember on one occasion seeing a character known as Charles Bullock, roasting a whole sheep on the green in front of the Nag’s Head. The sheep was fixed on a spit, the old man slowly turning the handle, the fat dripping into a dish underneath.
At this event a small fair sometimes put in an appearance with round-a-bout, swings and coconut shy that greatly added to the gaiety of the event. No doubt to modern eyes such events would be chicken feed but to the Forester of those days, leading their sequestered lives, they were days to be remembered as they brough colour to the rather drab routines of the existence then.
Boys and girls during the summer played their games on the village green. They played under the sheltering oaks when the weather was hot. Girls played jaxies, rounders, skipping and as potential housewives they made houses with bits of chaney (china). Boys played marbles, buttons, rounders, ball and trundled their hoops on the roadway. Many girls also played with hoops. During the summer holidays boys often travelled long distances in search of wasps nests. Armed with a spade and a supply of saltpetre and brimstone they had rare fun in taking out nests. Those in the ground were easiest to take. The procedure was to put a mixture of saltpetre and brimstone in paper about the length and size of one’s finger, which was then set alight and inserted into the entrance. It was sealed with a turf. Meanwhile one of the boys would prod around with the heel of his boot to find a soft place where the most likely place for the comb would be. After allowing time for the fuse to do its work, the started digging where they expected to get results. If the failed they had to follow the trail of smoke from the entrance. Meanwhile the wasps arriving at the nest were buzzing angrily around the entrance, but the boys ignored them and went on with their digging. To knock at them would have been even more useless, and make them more angry. When the cry came “Here it is” the comb was lifted out and carried some distance away, where the layers were parted and the drugged waspsswept off. The eggs in the cells were taken home for the hens. Occasionally it took along time to locate the comb and when this occurred the cry was “They’re alive” and there followed a rush for the brushwood to beat off wasps, but needless to say the blue-bag was often required when the boys reached home. The weapon of brushwood was called a ‘lush’.
During the long dark evenings of winter very few girls were allowed out to play. Boys, however, had quite a good time, mostly playing improvised games such as ‘Hi Inky’, ‘Run Ship Run’ (Sheep), ‘Dicky Dicky Show Light’, ‘Follow my Leader’ and many others. They also played their pranks of course. One favourite one being ‘Tip, tap on the Window’. This was done by having along piece of cotton or string with a button and a safety pin attached to one end of the string, the safety pin being attached a few inches from the end to allow the button free play. When a home had been chosen, a boy would enter the premises and stealthily creep to a lighted window and insert a pin into the putty. He would the join the other boys who held the other end of the string, then they would gently pull the string at intervals causing the button to tap on the window. This invariably brought someone out of the house to investigate, but the boys remained quiet so that things were normal again. Returning indoors the mystified owner would settle down again. This was the signal for the boys to repeat their operation. The irate owner would again go out to investigate but again all was normal as the boys lay quiet. If there was reason to think their joke would be discovered, the boys would give a quick jerk on the string to disconnect the pin and make a quick retreat to safety.
The making and flying of kites was a great pastime and sport for boys during the summer holidays. The kites they made were usually large ones with large tails to keep them steady, and when flown in suitable weather they would remain in the sky over the trees of the Forest for hours. Occasionally the string holding the kite broke, and this meant going into the depth of the forest to retrieve it from a tree. The only day school for Slade children was Viney Hill. This school took in children from as far as Parkend Road Yorkley, Yorkley school was not built until 1909. Pillowell, the only other school available is situated at the far end of Pillowell. Viney Hill school had some 200 scholars at that time.
The main buildings of the Slade were the Bible Christian Chapel, the Nag’s Head Inn and Johnson Bros Stores, now owned by Mr Barden.
The Yorkley Star Cricket Club – which is still running – has been in existence as long as I can remember.
Rugby Football at Yorkley was played 70 years ago, and is still played today. Association Football or Soccer is of more recent popularity and both Oldcroft and Viney Hill have clubs.
Some70 years ago the district could boast of two bands – both brass. The Excelsior under Mr. Philip Phipps and the Old Yorkley Band. These bands no longer exist but the tradition has been carried on by the Yorkley “Onward” band and the Pillowell Band.
Over the last two decades, the Slade, as well as the Forest generally has been losing its insularity, mainly due to modern means of transport. This is to the good of the Forseter as it has broadened his outlook, yet on the other hand we Foresters seem to have olost something almost indefinable.
The quiet peaceful life of the village has given place to the rush and bustle of the modern world. In this, I think, we have lost something very valuable.
Archive retrieval by Stephen Morse and Richard Chidlaw, recreated for the rest of us by Ken Morse, January 2010
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