Mr. Sydney Dollimore, who came to live in Leverstock Green at the age of 14, in 1927, had very vivid recollections of life in "The Green " in the 1930's. The Dollimores lived at 7, Bunkers Farm Cottages, as Mr. Dollimore senior was Head Horsekeeper and late Foreman to Joseph Bailey of Chambersbury House. Syd had a very fluent prose style, and I shall reproduce the bulk of the letter he sent me below, as it conjures up so beautifully what life must have been like here in the 1930's. Syd sadly died at the end of May 2006 We had corresponded for many years and he was always interested in latest information I had uncovered about "the Green". He will be missed.
The 1930's as Remembered by Sydney Dollimore.
"During that decade the village could be termed as a closely knit community with any one's affairs being known to all and sundry, and from my viewpoint the villagers consisted mainly of worthies, and characters some of which could be termed as eccentrics.
We made our own entertainment which was varied and constant, to my mind the Green being a far livelier place than it is at present. The playing area then consisted of a strip of rough grass extending from a hedge which ran in a line from Blacksmith's Row to a point where the cricket pavilion stands, this area also incorporating a pond which was full of otherwise according to the season.
This space on most fine evenings was the scene of impromptu soccer or cricket in which three quarters of the village youths participated, with quite a few householders leaning on their garden gates offering abuse or advice.
A popular entertainment at that period was the weekly dance held at the old village hall, a timber edifice standing at the corner of Pancake Lane. We even at one time possessed our own village band run by Charlie Hill of Curtis Road. As at that time Charlie Kunz was a universal favourite you can guess what the band's signature tune was.
LEVERSTOCK GREEN IN THE 1930's
as remembered by Sydney Dollimore
Dancing classes were organised by Mr. & Mrs Leat at the Village Hall so that the young of the village could enjoy the weekly dance at the Village Hall.
We had a good cricket team although the ground was away from the village being situated at Cherry Trees Farm which belonged to a well known & liked farmer Bill Gale a member of the team. We often had to drive the cows from the field and clear away the cow pats before the game got under way. At that time the side possessed a demon fast bowler Albert Steers, a tall lean individual who I can remember having a trial for the Middlesex County eleven.
An eagerly awaited annual event was the bonfire on Guy Fawkes night. From the start of October rubbish and debris of all sorts was collected into a huge heap in the centre of the green for the night unless it was prematurely ignited by marauders from Hemel.
The above notes for LGCC in 1933 were taken from "Almost A Century" A history of LGCC from 1908 by Brian & Marion Latchford. Click here for LGCC website.
When I look back I realise that we lads were a pretty rough crowd always ready to mix it with any outsiders who stepped on to our patch and I must admit we were always up to mischief without any hint of vandalism as we know it today being brought up to respect persons, and property, and any lapses from grace quickly corrected by the village copper P.C. Dickinson or our parents.
We were all fairly skilled in all rural pursuits, mainly as means of filling the family larder, nearly all of us carried a catapult and no rabbit was safe in our vicinity, and we were partial to the occasional pheasant or partridge. I expect you could term us all poachers on a small scale. Poaching was very much a rural way of life then, and men such as Harry Taylor of the Blacksmiths Row were regarded very much as modern Robin Hoods. Almost every household owned a dog mostly of a nondescript lineage but all proficient at catching a rabbit, in fact most families lived on rabbits and my viewpoint in those days could be summed up in the following rural jingle:-
Rabbits hot, rabbits cold,
Rabbits young, rabbits old,
Rabbits tender, rabbits tough
Thank the lord I've had enough.
A rabbit then was always a saleable commodity especially when hard up for cash, a condition common to most of us then, and I myself have sold them at the village public houses for as little as three pence ( 3 old pennies!).
ABOVE: The White Horse
BELOW:The Hunt outside The Leather Bottle, and dressed for the Coronation, 1937
For a lot of the working men the focal points were the village pubs of which there were the three which are open today, although the Plough at Bellconey has been enlarged and virtually rebuilt. Then it was a small dingy house popular with the more lively set of the village. The landlord was Fred Boatwright a very popular local bred man whose real occupation was that of driving a horse drawn timber gig (a long four wheeled wagon which carried huge tree trunks) for East's of Nash Mills. Fred was a versatile character, and it was a well known fact that at the Plough it was possible to obtain a pint, a rabbit, and a haircut during opening hours.
The White Horse, which has been completely rebuilt, was then a small house standing in a slightly more easterly position than the present as then there was a small shop cum garage, and two cottages between the public house and Green Lane. This inn was especially popular with the residents of Blacksmith's Row.
To my mind the main public House was the Leather Bottles which was run by the Seabrook family. Though the landlord was Arthur Seabrook the house was supervised by his wife, ably assisted by her son in law Cis Parkin who later took over the licence. Mrs. Seabrook was a formidable lady running a very strict house, it being a well known fact that no customer was allowed to become incapably drunk in her establishment. When she entered she watched you carefully in so much that I can remember one Saturday evening after visiting a St. Alban's cinema and cycling home, upon reaching the Green I fancied a drink. I counted my meagre cash, found I could afford fourpence for a brown ale, but upon entering the bar as the light dazzled me stumbled on the threshhold, and when I gave Mrs. Seabrook my order she shook her head and said "I think Sydney that you have had too many all ready", and my protestations were of no avail.
ABOVE: Cecil Parkins at the bar of The Leather Bottle
BELOW: Arthur & Lily Seabrook, Landlord & Landlady of The Leather Bottle.
We as teenagers were not really welcome by her or her regular customers, only being allowed in on sufferance and then not being allowed to sit in any regular patron's seat or argue or be unduly noisy especially if a game of droll when in their cups, but I cannot remember anyone being quarrelsome or a public nuisance. To my mind most of the men were entitled to a drink as hardly without exception they worked hard at that time, as then you either worked or starved, and jobs such as brick making, digging chalk or lime or agricultural labouring were carried on in conditions which would be considered unthinkable today.
A regular rural pursuit for us youths was known as Bat-folding which was conducted during the winter evenings and was carried out by means of a net carried between two poles, this was placed against a hedge, lights were held behind it, and when the hedge was beaten from the other side many small birds were caught in the net. I expect this could be considered as being cruel but the practice was welcomed by the farmers as then small birds existed in much larger numbers than today and they made great inroads into the crops.
LEFT: 1930's Choral Society. L- R Back Row: ? , Reg Childs, ? SYD DOLLIMORE, ? Fred Leat; 2nd Row: Charlie Brigginshaw, ?, Nellie Simons, Joe, Seabrook, Doris Steers; 3rd Row: May Matthews, Irene Lee, ?, May Brigginshaw, ? Mrs Lear, Mrs. L. Field; Front Row: Nora Harrowell, Grace Harrowell, Mr. Ayre, Jose Seabrook, Kitty Field.
The main institutions of the village were the church, chapel, and the school. I'm afraid that though the villagers respected and regarded the church as a focal point the attendance was meagre. The long serving vicar The Rev. Arthur Durrant was deeply respected and though getting on in years was a learned, gifted, kindly incumbent who looked upon his living as a vocation, or at least that was my impression when meeting him.
LEFT: Rev. Arthur Durrant & his daughter Lorna. BELOW: Rev. Arthur Durrant c. 1900
At that period the village was separated more or less into three distinct locations, the main part centred around the Green, Westwick Row consisting of a few scattered cottages grouped around a row of run down small houses which could only be described as hovels, and Belconey made up of about six scattered cottages, the Plough Inn with row of nine or ten small houses adjoining. Though the two outlying sections could be regarded as having poorer living conditions than the Green, residents of them were very partisan and proud of their homes.
During this period the village was showing the first signs of expansion firstly with the building of Curtis Road in the mid twenties and with the development of Tile Kiln Lane in 1936. But there was still very little in the way of street lighting; many houses used septic tanks, but for the majority it was still very much a case of the little hut at the end of the garden, and the weekly nocturnal visit of the night soil collector or the Lavender Cart as it was commonly known.
There was not much in the way of crime during that decade except when poultry houses were raided nearing the festive season, housebreaking was a rarity, in fact the only case I can remember was when Chambersbury was burgled, a a quantity of silverware taken. During the following day this was found hidden at the chalk pit on the left side of the dip in Chambersbury Lane. The thief returned two nights later and was swiftly apprehended by P.C. Cattermole the very large constable from Bedmond. There were not many locked doors in the village then, indeed it was said that the residents of the nine cottages adjoining the Plough did not have a front door key between them which may have been occasioned by the fact that most of them were hard up, and like most of us at that time did not possess anything worth purloining, besides the village policeman knew everyone on his patch, he was not afraid of the dark and there was generally some nefarious poacher about in the night to deter any housebreaker.
Joseph Bailey of Chambersbury House, was a fairly well known farmer. Farming land from Catsdell to Bunkers Lane. He owned both Bunkers and High Street Green farms, and rented Westwick Row Farm from the Earl of Verulam. He was also the owner and managing director of messers Davis and Bailey agricultural engineers of the Boxmoor Ironworks of Marlowes, the works standing precisely where Bank Court is today. He was a regular at the Holy Trinity and during the period in question donated the land now comprising the burial ground, and ashes internment plot on the east side of the Churchyard. I remember him giving strict instructions to my father to keep this area mown, and tidy, which he did until Mr. Bailey's demises in 1949.
Residing almost opposite to Joe Bailey, at Sibleys Orchard was a Mr. Webster whom I understood to be a retired London Jeweller. He was the donator of the Webster Cup to the Herts Football Association. His son Malcolm lived at the Old Red Lion ( which I now believe is called St. Michaels End) His chauffeur at that time being Mr. Field, the father-in-law of Madge Field ( who was granddaughter to Arthur Seabrook of the Leather Bottle). (Click here for link to page on Percy & Malcolm Webster)
A Mr. Child lived on the corner of Green Lane. He was at one time owner of the Bennets End Brickworks, and the house now standing is a fine example of the Acorn brick.
A very retiring person resided at the farm opposite the White Horse. He was a Captain Webber whom I understood to have been badly wounded in the 1914-18 war, and I knew him as a hunting, and shooting correspondent for the Field magazine.
There were a few well off residing in Tile Kiln Lane, one springing to mind was Mr. Secretan who lived at the Dells. At the very top of the Lane lived the Bessants, the daughter Annie a fairly well known sculptor or potter.
With regards to worthies, or as some might regard them eccentrics, the Green had a fair share. At the west end of Blacksmiths Row was situated the village smithy which presented a grand sight on dull winter evenings as it was just getting dark. The smith Arthur Mears, was friend to most people as well as being a writer of copperplate figuring often being commissioned by members of the legal profession.
Towards the east end of the Row lived a bachelor Arthur Childs, a fine ploughman and horsekeeper whenever he chose to be. He was a typical village philosopher, and when in his cups spouting Shakespear and profundity.
At the eastern end of the Row lived the Stewarts, the father Harry being a taciturn Scots shepherd who invariably allowed his beard to grow during the lambing season. When in the mood he had a propensity for playing the bagpipes and I often heard him perform when he lived at Well Farm Cottages before moving to the Green.
In the cottages running across the green linking the Bedmond and St. Albans roads (Church Cottages) lived Dick Steers the village decorator. He was one of the first trustees of the village hall, a fine ballroom dancer and much in demand as M.C. at local dances.
Then there was Bruiser Wheeler a ploughman employed at Corner Farm. He walked to the Leather Bottle every evening wet or fine, winter and summer from Beech Tree Cottages. You could set your watch by him and I never remember seeing him without a clay pipe in his mouth.
Then there was Squirt Fountain of Westwick Row, the proverbial exservice British Tommy the village wag; also Sid Perry the roadman who kept his length of road from the Green to Pimlico immaculate, and knew any local scandal even before it happened.
The only person with any claim to fame I can remember living at the Green in this decade was Cavin O'Connor (The Strolling Vagabond - a singer and music hall artist), a flamboyant character who resided in the Old Parsonage (later known as The Deans) after the death of the Rev. Durrant.
Apart from the essential grocery items most of the households were almost self supporting, nearly every householder cultivating their back garden or allotment, relying for most commodities upon visiting tradesmen. Howards of Apsley greengrocer, George Knight from St. Albans a man relied upon for paraffin, candles, and lamps, essential items in those days. Bread was brought to the door by Charlie Dean of Charles Street, Hemel Hempstead or by Herbie Wilkins of the Cooperative Society.
Milk was delivered by several small dairymen, one of whom was a local character Mr. Boatwright (Boatie) of Highwood Hall Farm, who staggered his delivery times as he had a liking for ale, generally finishing his round at the Plough which was kept by his son Fred. The only regular visiting butcher was Mathew Keen from Hemel High Street and there was not much call for his services as meat was an expensive item for most households, most families being satisfied with rabbit or fat bacon.
LEFT: Boatie Boatwright delivering milk to Hillside Cottages.
Like most lads of my age our main interests then was the pursuit of the opposite sex or sport. The first being expensive and we usually were hard up for cash, we were forced to follow sport, mainly soccer. Of course the Saturday night visit to the Luxor or Princess cinemas was a must unless a local dance was taking place. We formed groups with common interests, and upon lookimg back I think we enjoyed ourselves, made our own entertainments and though we then lacked what are now thought to be essentials such as televisions etc., I don't think we were ever really bored."
POSTCRIPT: Jill Ray, grandaughter of Landlady Mrs. Seabrook, on reading the above article commented: "She was a very strict old lady and no-one was allowed to play darts or dominoes on Sundays - they were locked away!"
This page was last updated: September 5, 2015
The sexton was a Mr. Wright who lived close to the Leather Bottle. He was also the village undertaker, and I can remember when visiting him in 1937 in order to put up my marriage banns having to sign the form resting on top of a coffin he was making.
There was generally a larger congregation at the Baptist chapel on the Bedmond Road which was run by the Wilkins family led by Grandfather Wilkins, the organ being played by his granddaughter, the singing being led ably though sometimes rather loudly by his daughter Edie Rogers.
The school was presided over by Walter Ayre who I considered to be a fine example of a village schoolmaster. (See Pancake Lane School) He and his wife were a gifted couple, Mrs Ayre being a fine pianist and organist and expert at many traditional country crafts. Walter was a man of many talents having a fine singing voice along with a knowledge and love of music. For years he conducted the orchestra for the productions of the Hemel Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society held at the Luxor or Boxmoor Hall. He was well known as a church bellringer, and as a fine exponent in the art of hand bell ringing.
My chief knowledge of his accomplishments was gained through being a member of the village choral society formed and conducted by him. It was an illuminating experience to be coached by him, and I can remember many happy musical moments of which the two most memorable were taking part in a rendering of excerpts from Stainers Crucifixion in the Holy Trinity during the Easter of 1932, and in the autumn of that year competing in the West Herts Choral Festival held in the Assembly hall of the Berkhamsted Boys School where we rehearsed under the baton of Malcom Sargent, long before he was knighted.
Walter Ayre was the villagers' first wicket down batsman but whenever he and Mr. Joseph Bailey appeared in the harvest field with their twelve bore shot guns everyone took cover as they were both notoriously bad shots.
Sadly, Sydney Dollimore passed away at the age of 92, at the end of May 2006. His funeral service was held at Holy Trinity Church Leverstock Green on 6th June 2006. Although Syd had lived in Berkhamsted for 16 years, Holy Trinity was his spiritual home. He had worshipped here regulalry, married his wife Dorothy here, and later their daughter Val was Christened here. She too was later to marry at Holy Trinity.
As is often the case on such occassions, I learnt more about Sydney after his death than I had known before. I am please that I was able to play a part in ensuring his memories will live on, and delighted to know him. I shall allways have fond memories of him turning up out of the blue in the playground of Leverstock Green School one morning, when I was on playground duty as a supply teacher. We had been conrresponding and I had told him that the foundation stone for Pancake Lane School had been moved to the school in Green Lane. He had decided to come and see it, and travelled over on the bus from Berkhamsted. After talking to the then Head, John Fellows, and mentioning my name, John kindly sent him out to me in the playground, and took my class for 15 minutes, whilst we chatted.
We corresponded on many occassions over the years, and I consulted him on numerous occassions about little things to do with the village. He was always interested, and always extremely interesting. He will be missed.
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