(The following article was written by Irene Cranwell)
I suppose everyone has a favorite saying, or sayings – nearly 60 years ago Richard Llewellyn was the author of one of mine. He wrote “There is no fence or hedge round time that has gone. You can go back and have as much of it as you like if you remember well enough”. How true.
As one heads towards the Great Sunset, nostalgia become more and more precious – and almost takes over as part of life. Little everyday things re-lived in memory, give both great pleasure and much comfort.
Today, I am thinking back to ‘Chamberses’ (the suffix ‘es’ gives an added syllable and, in some obscure way denotes possession. ‘Chamberses’ was ‘ours’ in the same way as the school, the church, the chapel and the village pumps were ‘ours’.
Chamberses was the Harrods of Chrishall. Apart from livestock it would be difficult to think of anything one could not purchase there. Indeed, one could draw up an alliterative list that could be almost set to music.
There was treacle and thread, hairpins and honey, postcards and pepper, tapioca and tape, darning wool and damson jam, bootlaces and bacon, bluebags and buttons, salt and soda, currants and cotton, butter and boot polish, pillow cases and paraffin, lamp glasses and lard, milk and mousetraps, scrubbing-brushes and sandpaper – oh dozens more. You name it, and I should be very surprised if it wasn’t there – and cheese cut from a huge round that really tasted like cheese should taste.
Part of Chamberses ship housed the Post Office, where, behind spindly-turned rails Miss Elbourne reigned. Perched on a high stool she dispensed the usual Post Office commodities, including the Old Age pension, which in those days was the munificent sum of 10/- (ten shillings – 50p) weekly.
I always think of Miss Elbourne there. Between whiles she seemed always to be engaged in knitting. How she managed to keep those clouds of white wool looking so pristine was a mystery, but she did. Never so much as a shadow on anything Miss Elbourne knitted – and it was always in white wool.
Late in the afternoon could be heard a rhythmic banging, when with galvanized energy, Miss Elbourne franked the out-going mail Any ‘local’ letters were retained and delivered next morning – and every item of correspondence leaving the village was stamped very legibly with the postmark “Chrishall, Essex” – so different to today’s ubiquitous ‘Cambridge’ on everything.
Twice a year, around Ladyday (March 25th) and Michaelmas (September 29th) Miss Elbourne traversed the village wearing her other hat, that of Rates Collector.
But – ooooh! The BREAD baked at Chamberses! – words almost fail me – The presiding genius there was the late Mr Charles Flack – known to all and sundry as Baker Charles – and the bread he baked in the huge old brick oven was food for the gods. The oven was heated by wood, and an enormous stack of faggots, regularly replenished, stood nearby. Whole faggots were burnt to heat the oven and when hot enough, the ashes were drawn out and the risen dough in the form of ‘cottages’, ‘tins’, ‘sandwich’, ‘bloomers’ and ‘coburgs’ put in to bake. Bread baked in a wood oven has a flavor all its own. Crunchy, crackly crust, (more alliteration!) and he inner crumb light an toothsome. The aroma that drifted across the middle of the village when the loaves were drawn from the oven on the long ‘peels’ was a yeasty incense.
Occasionally we were treated to one or two of Baker Charles’ special “hutters” – a triangular shaped soft-dough kind of muffin. While still warm, split open and spread thickly with butter that oozed into the spongy crumb, and eaten – preferably out-doors – was sheer delight. I drool at the recollection. We had no misgivings about cholesterol. In those days we never knew it existed! All these gastronomic delights were delivered daily around the village by pony and cart.
There was something very restful in watching the herd of Chamberses cows that provided the milk for the dairy at the back, and which, after milking, made their leisurely way back down Church Road to Francis Close at about a mile an hour.
Where was Chamberses? – the old-timers will know, but for the benefit of new-comers let me tell you. The house called Martinholme was Chamberses.
Martinholme was in commerce for many decades. At one time it was in the hands of the Brand family (some relics and mementoes of that era may be seen in the village museum).
The late Mr Peter Flack – (dear old “Neighbour” to us), used to tell me a story – well – he told me many stories but I will relate this one as following on my foregoing effusion.
As a little boy he lived at Bilden End in what he called Bull’s Farm, but which I believe is today called The Wells or Well Cottage. His father, together with nigh on a score of other men worked at the Lowe Farm at Bilden End. The Brands farmed there and a brother or two ran the shop in the village.
“Neighbour” said that one Saturday night his father arrived home with his week’s “wages” – but instead of the 8/- (eight shillings -40p) for a six-day week, remember, – he had a number of hand-written tokens, authorizing the bearer to go to the shop in the village where the token could be redeemed in the form of groceries.
Apparently the Brand family had got together and engineered what must surely be one of the cheekiest bits of nepotism of all time.
“Neighbour” went on – all the men had accepted the tokens instead of money. BUT – it was a very different tale when the women took charge! Wives and mothers upped as one, and as Neighbour said “There was as near a riot in Chrishall as ever there had been – and the women won – hands down.
Neighbour was born in 1859, and these lively happenings took place nigh-on 130 years ago – but I wouldn’t half have liked to have seen the militant mums and missus-es in action!!!
[In our digital archive we have copies of the documents working out this voucher scheme. A lot of work went into planning it all out but he hadn’t ‘planned’ on the village wives!]