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Two Ears of Barley

by | Jul 14, 2018 | Builden End, Village Folk | 6 comments

haycarting building end

I was recently loaned a lovely little book called Two Ears of Barley, written by Jack Wilkerson and published in 1969 and all about the history of Barley in Cambridgeshire.  Barley is only about three miles from Chrishall as the crow flies and there are lots of village connections, some of which are mentioned in this book.  I was particularly interested in this piece about the Hayes family who I had not really come across before, although they appear on the Chrishall census.  These are the recorded reminiscences of Charlie Slater who was born in 1868.

“Jacob Hayes probably came to Barley from Chrishall, and six of his sons worked for James Wilkerson, whose ancestors also came from Building End, at Mincinbury.  The name was originally spelled Haze and the family may have taken their name from a field so called at Building End.

Jacob’s family, who are said to have met for the first time under one roof at his golden wedding, are remembered in rhyme –

Philip, Nathanial, Jason and Paul
Old Jacob Hayes is Father of all
But my tale’s not finished yet
There’s Clement, Eli and Margaret
But even that is not the list
There’s Ruth, Naomi, and Dorcas or Dot
It was after that that Jonah came
And Esther was their Mother’s name
And now to finish as we began
There’s Martin-Jacob and Abraham

It was said that the Rev. R.A. Gordon chose their biblical names but the family wanted to name Martin after a relation, so the compromise of Martin-Jacob was reached.”

I love the fact that the family had to reach a compromise with the vicar to name their own child!

I cannot find a Jacob Hayes as yet, and no mention of “Haze” as a family name, but there certainly are Hayes’s on the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns.  Wilkersons similarly appear on all the census returns from 1861 to 1901, and we have a Joseph and Susan Wilkerson buried in the Church graveyard.  If anyone works out the family connections do let us know!

If you know which field at Building End is (or was) called Haze it would be lovely to know.

Charlie had another interesting story with a Chrishall connection which proves that the flooding that is sometimes experienced along what we call the Bottom Brook (the B1309 towards Saffron Walden) is not a new phenomenon:

“Mr George Duke lived at Shaftenhoe End in those days… He also told me the road from Chrishall to Saffron Walden was in an awful state when he was a boy, streams of water crossed the road eight or nine times and it was a great difficulty to get through them in a wet time.  It was not until a parson’s groom and horse got drowned one Sunday night that anything could be got done.  The trap overturned, the parson got hold of the hedge and was saved”.

Again if anyone knows any more about this story please let us know.

Sadly ‘Two Ears of Barley’ does not seem to be available to buy currently.  Apparently there was also a follow-up published in the 1980s called Two More Ears of Barley.  If you come across a copy anywhere do pick it up as it is a very good read.

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  1. mrs una dawson

    I have a similar photo taken around the time of the Great war
    My great grandfather Samual Abrams lived at Top Farm and worked
    at Building end farm.
    I was born in 1937 mother was Gladys Abrams,grandparents Stacey
    and Mary lived with us in Hertfordshire, we often visited Chrishall.
    staying with Clara at Thatched Bungalow, and visiting auntie Dess
    in Brick Row.

  2. Rosemarie Gant

    Hello Una

    Thank you very much for this. I have just been tracing the connections back. Have you seen the picture of your great-grandparents with daughters Decima and Jessie here: ? The picture of the Abrams came from some relations of Jessie so you must be cousins! Jessie married William Ives and you can see an article about them here:

    I would love to see any photographs you might have if it is possible to scan them and send us a copy. I have some lovely pictures of Clara too at the Thatched Bungalow in the garden with her large cat. Do you remember that? I will have to get them on the website. Do let us know any further memories you have from visiting the village at that time. You can always contact me directly by emailing

  3. Mr P Slater

    I have Barley connections through my father, Cyril Slater who grew up in the cottages next to the church. I have a copy of “Two ears of Barley”. My paternal grandfather was awarded a medal from the Horticultural Society for his services. My father was a keen country lad and had a pet jackdaw. A cat got the jackdaw and it was arranged for a Jack Russell to put matters right. They all grew up happy but in awful conditions. I remember the cottage with no services, no water, no gas, no electricity, no sewerage, no phone. In WW2, like many of the rural folk, my father served in the volunteer fire brigade, then did 5-years with the RAF in the Middle East and Italy. They are never remembered for what they contributed. My grandfather would have worked in the “big house” and in the fields. I’m proud to have Barley in my veins

    • Rosemarie Gant

      They are great memories Mr Slater – thank you so much for sharing them.

      • Mr P Slater

        Thank you. I’m pleased to find that someone is taking an interest in these communities that thrived in such hardships in my lifetime. The older I get, the more I appreciate what they went through, but never complained. The Barley community still lives on though slightly more spread out. I spent most of my time in Hitchin, but my cousin who lives in St Albans, knows far more about the community than I do. Their lives revolved around service, harvest time and a good deal of looking after each other, long before the NHS. Apart from the local coach company, getting to somewhere like Royston might have meant a long walk.
        Good luck with your project

  4. chris allan

    Hi. I’m finishing a new book about the history of Barley and the Slaters are mentioned many times over the last 150 years. If you have any old photos of the village, perhaps with Slaters in uniform or at work, it would be great to include them. thanks, Chris


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