Village Memories

from Lewis Surridge

Abbots Langley, the village where I was born, holds many happy memories for me and my family…

My mother, Sybil, and her twin sister, Ethel Elizabeth Hearn, came from Chalfont St Peter to live and work in Abbots Langley (possibly around the late 1920s). Ethel was employed by a Mr & Mrs Thorp, who had also moved from Chalfont to Abbots Langley. Sybil worked for Mr & Mrs Roberts at Causeway House, in the High Street (opposite Adrian Road). Mr Roberts worked for the Foreign Office and later moved abroad. Sybil then worked for Major Drake at Manor House, nearby, where she was a parlour maid. She found the Drake family very nice people to work for.

While she was working there she met Eric Surridge, who worked in the Major’s Dairy. They later married at Chalfont St Peter in 1933 and then lived at 93 High Street, Abbots Langley, one of the Manor House cottages near Pound Cottage and Kitters Green. They rented the cottage for 3/- per week and their neighbours were the Kimmins and Ridgeway families. The Drake family kept cows and horses and were also keen hunters. When they went on holiday (often to Scotland, where Major drake was involved with the Tate & Lyle sugar company), my parents acted as caretakers while the family were away.

During the years that my parents worked for the Manor House, my father’s brother, Ray, met and married one of the lady’s-maids – her name was Kathleen. In August 1940, while still at the cottages, I was born and as a child I well remember the wonderful walnut tree which overhung our garden then – the fresh walnuts made a terrific feast! I believe the Drake family eventually moved to Scotland when they gave up the Manor House.

My father then went to work at the Ovaltine Farm and later to Sheppey’s Farm along the Bedmond Road. Mum had a job at Pine’s Grocers (then Lines’ Grocers) on the corner of Adrian Road and the High Street. Mr Pine was a very smart man, somewhat reserved but well liked. He had been trained with Sainsbury’s and became a well-respected businessman in the village. Mr & Mrs Pine had two sons: Derek and Lawrence. Mrs Pine and Mrs Barton were sisters (Keith Barton, her son, was a successful pilot with British Airways and later became a Concorde Captain!). Mr Lines, who eventually owned the grocers store, was also a clerk for Matthew, Arnold & Baldwin (solicitors at Watford).

There were other village characters: Mr Ridgeway (he would chase us off the Manor House grounds); Mr Barnes (grave digger); Mr Harris (taxi-driver, affectionately known as ‘Arty’); Mary Busby (undertaker, and seemingly always looking for a ‘body’ to speak to!); Mr & Mrs Kitchingman (he was the well-loved blind organist); and Reverend Wilkinson (vicar) and Reverend Peverley (curate), who were both wonderful in the Abbots Langley Gilbert & Sullivan productions.

I remember Mr Dobson (the hairdresser) with his ‘short back and sides son?’ as soon as you sat down in the chair! Quite often, adults would be allowed to ‘push in’ in front of us ‘kids’. There was Miss Mead’s sweet shop, where a farthing would buy quite a few sweets! And there was the Dentist (next to Chalkley’s). I hated the place and I can still ‘see’ the gas-mask coming towards me! After a school dental check, a white card signalled a filling, but a green one meant an extraction – I have been known to ‘hide’ a green card on occasions for the fear of being ‘gassed’!

There was the 318 bus from the village to Watford for Saturday morning pictures. 3d each way bus fare and 6d entrance fee: 1/- (5p) was all we needed for the morning’s entertainment.

I recall, too, the magnificent era of village cricket, with such names as Lawrie Swallow, John Lay, the Crownshaw brothers, Bob Simons (a great wicket keeper whose hat peak almost touched the stumps when keeping against fast or slow bowlers), Roger Gates, Ted Lambkin and Stan Edwards. There were visits of Alex Bannisters XI and celebrity teams which included the Bedser twins. Wonderful days!

I remember our ‘wireless’ with its accumulator batteries which needed replacing each week; the programmes – Workers’ Playtime, Children’s Hour, Have-a-Go and Paul Temple; sweet rationing; gas-masks; gas-mantles for lighting; toast on long-handled forks in front of the fire, bath-time in a tin bath in front of the fire; and the copper in the scullery which heated up the bath/washing water.

I remember having scarlet fever (serious in those days) and being taken by ambulance to hospital, and at the end of the war I vaguely recall the VE celebration on Kitters Green in 1945.

During the war, my father kept chickens and grew lots of vegetables in the garden. He was also in the Abbots Langley Home Guard. When I was small, Dad would sometimes carry me on his cycle crossbar and one day he was told off by a policeman – we learnt to respect the local ‘bobbies’ in those days!

There were the local pubs such as the ‘old’ King’s Head, and the Royal Oak – where Frank Tollet knew all of us youngsters, and would not serve us before we were 18 years old!

I left the village in 1964 and I now live at Kingswood, but I still consider Abbots Langley very much as ‘home’ – Happy days! n



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