Life in Milton under Wychwood in the late 50s

Ralph family at MiltonMy brother, sister and I moved with our parents The Revd E F Ralph and Mrs Lois Ralph to Milton under Wychwood in the latter part of 1957. The Baptist Church registry shows my father as minister between 1957-1962. Father and Mother loved the Church: it was their lives, and we as a family had many so called ‘aunts and uncles’ who were church members. The houses were always full of this wider church family. We lived in Milton in a Victorian property built by the church in Jubilee Lane that was called The Manse. The house has two plaques on the wall commemorating the building of the property in August 1889.

I know that coming to Milton under Wychwood was for my parents “heaven sent” and they loved it and the church life in Milton and Shipton. Coming to the village was for us children like moving to a different planet. I was eleven years old, my brother thirteen, and my sister nine and it was a completely different environment from the South London we had become used to. Of course, the village was then quite different from what it is now. There was very little traffic. There were no yellow lines. Far fewer houses. We were able to cycle everywhere and as kids we did. I remember mad cycling races down Quarry Hill, totally out of control, and a race with a number of friends down the long hill towards Chadlington, the only rule being that we were not to touch the brakes until we all got to the village – in retrospect, totally crazy.

The in-fill of housing has been considerable in the intervening period. For instance, in the late 50’s, going down the High Street from Jubilee Lane to the Green on the left-hand side there was a dairy farm (Poplar Farm-Wells). Much of the housing now along that side of the High Street was not there, nor was the housing from the Green up to St Simon and St Jude’s. Effectively at that time the middle of the village was filled with green fields.

The population then was far less than now but Milton village then had more shops and two public houses, the Butchers Arms and the Quart Pot, now The Hare. There was a baker (in Shipton), a very good butchers (Saunders), who pastured animals and slaughtered his meat. A grocers (Moss), a small grocers and clothes shop (Mrs Phillips, where the hairdressers now is) and a shop (a small Co-op with a butchers store). There was a clothes shop/haberdashers (Davis), an electricians (Rawlins), a very good hardware store (Priest Brothers) and a printers off the High Street. A dairy, a junk store sometimes selling groceries (Musk). Groves yard, of course, founded in the seventeenth century, and the garage (David Scott) and even a boot and shoe repairing shop (Markham). I remember his wife, Millie, was the postwoman on a bicycle. There was a doctor’s surgery, Dr Scott’s in the High Street, a primary school and several places of worship: St Simon and St Jude’s, the Baptist church, a Methodist church and a Strict Baptist chapel located at the end of the Terrace.

Reverend and Mrs Ralph in retirement at Bexhill-on-sea, SussexI recently found a booklet amongst my father’s papers published in Chipping Norton many years ago by a G W Davidson. Its date is unknown but it records some eye-watering statements, including “Owing to its isolated position, the inhabitants were far behind the times and extremely ignorant. The houses were badly built; indeed the larger proportion of them were only rough stone huts with mud floors and in a faulty condition. Down each side of the now well-kept High Street there were open ditches which reeked with the refuse from the houses, and the dust heaps in front of almost every door.” An extraordinary description. Any guesses as to the date?

Back to the 1950s. I remember studying for my O Levels at the bedroom window and looking out over open fields which stretched most of the way down behind the High Street. Looking out over the back of the house the fields stretched away beyond Major Batt’s drive. That now is a development of some 62 houses. We walked the dogs and played down in the fields at the end of Jubilee Lane, in winter tobogganing down the slopes. I even remember Major Batt on wooden skis one year. That area now is a development of yet more houses.

The village life was great for us all. We as children had great freedom here and made the most of it. The villagers were very welcoming. We swam in the river down the Lyneham Road with a number of other village children, diving off a plank fixed to the back of one of the Townsend’s lorries. We played in the Boy’s Brigade band which marched down the street on Sunday mornings playing discordantly on bugles. Paul and I swam often in the exercise pool at Major Batt’s house in Jubilee Lane.

I had a Saturday morning job working for Ken Rawlins, gardening at Major Batt’s house. Ken was a very talented gardener and taught me a lot but, when I knew him, he had physical impairment of both his feet and hands. He never complained. Other family names remain to this day – Miles, Hartley, Bradley and Barratt among them.

Milton under Wychwood will always hold wonderful memories for our family.

Stephen Ralph

April – May 2020