Village Memories

The Astons History Project group tries to capture memories of times past from village residents that would otherwise be lost. It uses various sources - for example we have a recording made by BBC Radio Oxford in 1970 of interviews with various key village residents - including Frank Cundell, a very successful horse trainer, and Paulise de Lugg, who donated the 'new' village hall in 1964.

Maybe you have memories that capture times past - not necessarily that long ago - things are changing all the time! Would you be interested in sending us your thoughts and memories of village life? 


Elsie CORDEROY (nee RAY)

Judy Barradell-Smith wrote these notes in 1983 after speaking to Elsie Corderoy ( nee RAY) as part of her university dissertation.  In 1983, Elsie was in her early 80’s (born 1902) and married to Gilbert Corderoy. She was living in one of the cottages at the end of the recreation ground. She had a brilliant and sharp memory.

Elsie was born in 1902 in Aston Tirrold in the thatched cottage that has now disappeared but was the 1st cottage on the right hand side of Chalk Hill Road as you look up it towards the A417.  Its site is now near the pond at the end of the garden of Chalk Hill Cottage.  It was once a semi-detached cottage (old map 1898) but by 1911/ 1912 had been converted into just one house for the growing RAY family. Her parents were James and Georgina RAY. James was a farm labourer and this was a tied cottage belonging to Mr Francis John Cross.

In 1911 Elsie aged 8 was the 2nd child with an elder sister Ivy, a younger sister Georgina and a younger brother James. Later to arrive were Kitch (1915) and Cyril (1917) Ray to name a few others. By 1911 (census) there were 6 children in this house plus mother and father. Her mother Georgina was aged 30 in 1911 and her father James aged 36. They had been married 10 years in 1911. Elsie died in 1994.

Elsie's words as spoken to Judy in 1983

I was born in 1902, the second child and second daughter in the family. My parents first came down this way just before the turn of the century and my sister Ivy was born in Blewbury in 1900 where my dad was employed on the farm there. They moved to Aston about 1901/1902 as I was the first of the family to be born here.  I went to Aston Tirrold school and left school at aged 12 in the summer of 1914 just a month or so before WW1 broke out. 

Me and Ivy were like second mums to our little sisters and brothers and mum said she thanked God for having two daughters first as the boys were right little blighters and ran rings round her. We were often kept off school to help out especially around harvest time when we stayed at home to mind the babies when mum went out to help dad on the land and earn extra money. She was not to be messed with my mum, she had a sharp tongue and we kids got many a scolding and a good slap from time to time. The house used to be in two halves and when we moved in, my mum said the other half was not lived in and was in an awful state. She went and asked Mr Cross if we could have the whole house and he said yes and sent over some men to make a door through to the other half upstairs and down. 

(Right: Aston Manor and The Boot pub, Thorpe Street)

The house then had 2 big rooms upstairs and one room down as a living room which also had a fire in it we could use and then the other room was the back kitchen, scullery and wash house where mum had an old boiler which she used to light a fire under to wash the clothes once a week . We kids were all squashed in one room upstairs with a curtain across it, boys in one half, us girls in the other. There was no privacy. We had a bucket to pee in at night as there was only an outhouse for that use across the yard and no one wanted to go there at night. It stunk. The other bedroom, mum and dad and the two little ones including the baby slept in there. We hardly ever had shoes.  We used to get into trouble for not having shoes from our school teacher so we shared them – whoever was going to school that day had the shoes! Downstairs in the small scullery and kitchen mum had an open fire to cook over. The only water was from the well just up a bit from the cottage. The boys had a bucket with a small hole in it and it was their job to fetch the water and fill up the pots inside and they had to run like the wind on the way back before it all ran out. 

I went to work as an under maid in The Manor. I had to get there by 6.00am every day to light the fires and help with the cooking and doing the chores. And we had half a day off on Sunday. I remember Mrs Cross as being a tall lovely lady. She was very kind to us girls and often sent home extra food to us. We were all expected to go to church on Sundays. I had a smart black uniform and proper black shoes for the first time in my life. We had plenty to eat. It was a lovely place to work. I was happy there. 

I worked my way up in that house and later by the time I was about 18 , I got myself a job as the under housekeeper at Upton Lodge. I had to be at work at 7.00am and I walked from Aston to Upton and back each day. I ended up as Housekeeper there and had my own room at Upton Lodge and also staff to manage. Not bad was it for a poor girl from Aston Tirrold! 

In 1927 when I was aged 25, I got married to William Wadley 

Gilbert Corderoy, Elsie's husband.

These memories, recorded and transcribed by Jenny Worthington, and published in the Village News in April and July of 1995. Gilbert died in 2000.

Gilbert Corderoy was born in Aston Upthorpe in 1911 and remembers life in the early part of this century.  Gilbert's father, Joseph Corderoy, came from Blewbury and bought the Smithy from the Finches in about 1902. Joseph was a wheelwright and carpenter and the Corderoys were also undertakers for the Astons and Moretons.  He and his sons did farm repairs and tyre replacement and Joseph made some Berkshire wagons.   One or two blacksmiths were employed in the forge which was out at the front and at one time they shoed racehorses as well as farm horses.  Corpses were collected in a black-painted handcart which was also used for funerals.  A hearse could be hired in Wallingford. There was another blacksmith at Blacksmith's Cottage, Jo Hearne, who did the work for Carrimers, and his forge was there until quite recently.

Aston Tirrold School, by then the only one in the Astons, had 60-70 pupils during the First World War. There were three classes:  Miss Mayne taught the lnfants (5-7 years).  Mrs Evans taught 7-10 year-olds and Mr Evans taught the 10-14 year-olds.  A bell in the turret rang at 8.45 am and again at 8.55 to show it was school time. Everyone went home to dinner from 12.30 until 2 pm.  Gilbert was at school with Cyril Ray. The top class boys played football on Friday afternoons, sometimes against Blewbury.  If the lads were naughty, they weren't allowed to play.  Sometimes they had athletics on a Friday, and Gilbert once competed in Palmer Park Reading.

The Revd Longland was Rector of St Michael's until 1937. There was competition to gain a place in the choir, consisting of six men and eight boys.  Gilbert was in the choir as a boy and then became Church Clerk for 18 years and a bellringer for 51 years. The choirmaster was Mr Burgess at Lauristinus. There were morning services and a children's service every Sunday afternoon.

There were five bells when Gilbert started ringing in 1929, and a new treble was added in about 1938. The bellringers had a special supper every New Year's Eve.  Aston Upthorpe parish was linked with Upton and every Sunday there was Evensong at 3 pm. The Vicar, Revd Moore, was fetched from Upton by Margaret Maynard, the grocer's daughter, in her Ford (registration number DP 3879). Gilbert's brother, William, was taught the organ by the choirmaster and then had lessons in Cholsey; he played the organ in the church for over 50 years.There were four shops in the village. The largest was at Croft Corner, run by Mr and Mrs Maynard. This shop was the post office, sold groceries and almost anything.  Many goods were kept in sacks and weighed into brown paper bags. Mr Maynard and his son of 2l were killed in a motorbike accident on the Wallingford-Henley road as they were setting out on holiday.  Suggetts was also a general store. The third shop was the baker's, now the Old Bakehouse.  He baked the bread and delivered it in a handcart. Gilbert liked his lardy cakes. There was a butcher from Blewbury Mill who rented a shop where the Post Office is now.   Later a mail-order coffee business,  the British East African Coffee Company, was started (in Aston Street) by Turner and Price.  When the premises in The Cottage grew too small they moved next door into Freelands and employed three or four girls. There was no milkman. Villagers fetched their milk in their own cans from the dairy opposite Manor Barn which was demolished a few years ago. Coal came from Mark Street in Blewbury by horse and cart. Those unlucky enough to live up a hill had to collect it in a pram.

There were two pubs, neither selling food. The Boot was nearer the road than it is today in line with Stockwell's Cottage.  It was pulled down and replaced by the building which has recently become a private house.  Mr Clargo (the thresher) was landlord of The Boot.  Mr Whichello was landlord of The Chequers and was also a carpenter. His two sons were killed in the First World War and their names are recorded on the Memorial opposite.  The farm workers usually went to The Chequers and the stable lads to The Boot.

Mr  Cross (known at F.J.K. Cross) who made his fortune in the cotton industry in Manchester and came to The Manor in 1900, built Carrimers Farm, the two cottages on Chalk Hill, two at Sheephouse, new buildings at Lower Hill Barn and what is now Races Farm. He also owned quite a lot of cottages in Aston Tirrold. He employed a foreman, a gamekeeper and about 15 men, working first with horses and then with tractors. Before the days of combine harvesters, cornricks were built in the fields. A threshing machine was taken in the winter from field to field with Mr Clargo and Jo Hearne doing the threshing.  A wire fence was put around each rick to confine the rats and Mr Clargo's dog, Queenie, was an expert rat catcher.  Farm workers were given 2d a tail for rats, and Dave King used to catch "no end" at Carrimers. When the fields were cut with the binders, there were a lot of rabbits to catch. The fields were much smaller than today, with many more hedges and trees round them, but one of the larger fields would yield 50 rabbits. Mr Cross had several pheasant shoots, Gilbert was a beater and the shooting party used to lunch at Lower Hill Barn.

Sheep and cattle were driven to market along the road to Wallingford by George Rich, stockman at Carrimers.  Swedes, turnips and kale were grown for fodder and hand-hoed.  A hurdle-maker came at intervals to make sheep hurdles from withies cut from pollarded willows in the meadows.  There was a cherry orchard to the east of Aston Street, but the best cherries grew where Berrycroft is now. The cherries were auctioned in The Boot whilst they still hung on the trees, and strangers came to pick them.

There was no mains water in the villages and most houses had their own wells.  Four houses shared a well on Chalk Hill and several houses shared one in the Moreton Road. Sometimes, in a dry summer, Gilbert would have to dig the wells three feet deeper. There was a well and a pump at the school.  The larger houses had a big tank in the roof and one of the men pumped water up each morning. There was a wind pump at Carrimers.  The school and most of the houses had privies in the garden, usually with simple buckets, but a few had earth closets which were dug out about once a year. Some semi-detached houses had semi-detached closets where neighbours could have a friendly chat over the wooden partition!

There used to be a fire engine in a barn behind 9 Aston Street where Tom Powell lived. It was a wooden horsedrawn cart with water pumped by hand, but in Gilbert's time this was no longer used. He remembers three large fires: the boxes and thatched barns burned down at Popes,  the farm buildings at Copse Stile where the Dutch barn stands today; and the cricket pavilion in 1968, where the children's playground is now, which had recently had its thatch replaced by tiles.

There were two carriers to Wallingford, Mr Fry and Mr Pepol, who would take almost anything on their carts.  You could pay a shilling for a ride into town.  People walked to Cholsey to catch the train and many people had bicycles. Jonathan Pope of Rose Cottage would take people to Wallingford in a horse and trap.  Building materials were sent by horse and cart from Phillips in Crowmarsh (now Jewsons). Some materials came by steam traction engine and trailer from Ridleys in Reading.  Sand and gravel were obtained locally from the Moreton Road, now the Old Pits. The use of cob, wattle and daub and hard chalk rock as local building materials had already ended when Gilbert started work.

All the big houses had servants:  The Manor had a chauffeur and odd-job man, two parlourmaids, a cook, a kitchenmaid and about six gardeners; Blewburton Hall had about five in the house; Copse Stile and Orchard House had about three in the house.

Major Morris and his American-born wife lived at Blewburton Hall.  Between 1920 and 1930 his wife had all the lawns covered with chicken houses which Gilbert helped to build. She had Light Sussex poultry, and she went to all the big shows with her champion cockerel. Major Morris had a racing stable and his brother built Orchard House in the twenties.  Colonel Winter lived at Finches and started a Scout troop. The Scout hut was an old railway carriage situated where The Close is now.  Dr Moon lived in in Copse Stile, which was rented from Mr Cross and travelled every day to Harley Street. Dr Langmore lived in The Red House and had a daily surgery in Herberts Cottage and later on at the Red House.  He would put wooden splints on a broken limb and had a big jar of 'cure-all' medicine which was dished out to everyone for flu.  Harold Slade owned Lower Farm (also called Ham Farm and now Upthorpe Farm).  Leonard Slade farmed Thorpe Farm, the Slades having lived here since 1521.

Some of the families were very large; the Rays and Blakes each had ten children. Les and Kitchy Ray still live in the village.  More than one family lived in Pope's, the Blakes having lived there at one time.