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Last instalment of charming memoir

THIS week sees the final part of S G Dollimore's memoirs of his Wheathampstead childhood, A Boyhood Remembered.

"One of the licensed premises there was the Cross Keys, which on some Sundays during the summer was visited by organised parties from London. These parties were known as Beanfeasters' and the local children gathered to see their amateur impromptu variety shows, and on their departure had the endearing habit of scattering coins among the children.

"An eccentric maiden lady in that area was Miss Maimie Pring, an elderly character well known for her perambulations in a governess cart pulled by a diminutive donkey.

"One of the most enjoyable memories of my boyhood is of Sunday evening strolls with my parents during which we sometimes met other villagers, and I listened enthralled to old village lore. Both my parents were great walkers and I inherited that trait. One walk was my particular favourite, this being a visit to the ruins of the old church at Ayot St Lawrence, a place steeped in mystery to me. In those days you could wander there at will but I am given to understand that the ruins are considered to be unsafe nowadays.

"In the Twenties there was a decided slump in agriculture. Prices were low and efforts were being made to reduce the already pitiful low wages of farm workers. The summers of 1925 and 1936 were very wet and many farmers were facing bankruptcy.

"In the spring of 1927 Mr Seabrook decided to retire and my father, along with his fellow workers, was given notice of dismissal, and the farm sale was fixed for Michaelmas. I left school for good at the end of July, and for me that year's harvest was a dismal affair.

"Farm sales are always sad occasions and it was the end of an era for me.

"On the day of the sale I am afraid there were tears in my eyes, and ache in my heart, as the well-loved horses were led away by their new owners, and the familiar old appliances disposed of.

"My father was dismissed at the end of the month and as we needed somewhere to live he had to seek employment outside the district with the result that at the end of October we moved lock, stock and barrel to Butterfield Green at Stopsley, near Luton.

"I had the good fortune during the Second World War to be stationed for a short period at Ayres End near Harpenden and from time to time had occasion to visit Wheathampstead in the course of my duties. But I found that the old glamour had vanished.

"I visit the village very infrequently nowadays. There are many changes; the Lamer estate has lost almost all the magnificent oaks, beech and ash trees that I knew and they have been more than replaced by conifers, leaving very little arable or pasture fields.

"Even most of the footpaths have disappeared, or maybe no-one troubles to use them now.

"The railway went under the Beeching axe. I stare at faces but recognise no-one. There are many more residents, mainly commuters. The High Street is full of motor vehicles and I am afraid you could not bowl a hoop or spin a top there today.

"I recently stood on the steps opposite the old mill where the Lea emerges from under the road, all was neat and tidy but several things were missing.

"The day was warm and sunny, but where were the paddling children with their fishing nets? Come to think of it, where were the fish? Workmen were even removing the old mill timbers to make room for shops.

"But thank goodness the mill race still flows through a trifle murky, and St Helen's still stands magnificent as ever it did, with its unlocked doors open to visitors and worshippers alike."


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