What we were reading in The Wychwood forty years ago

Getting to Know your Neighbours – The Townsends

From the Wychwood  April/May 1981

Arthur Gee in his cottage in Fifield early 1900s

Leslie and Winifred Townsend celebrated their Golden Wedding two years ago. Their first home was at Taynton but later they came to live among their numerous relations at Fifield and have been there ever since. Winifred kept the Post Office shop for 12 years, while Leslie worked as a stone-mason.

One of the fine houses he worked on was Burford Priory, where his creation – a fine balustrade of Bath stone – still stands today. Burford was the birth-place of Winifred, whose father, a bell-founder, cast bells which can be heard today in Burford itself as well as Taynton, Bledington and Islip. Her mother, who celebrates her 101st birthday, next month, lives in Kidlington.

In fifty years Leslie and Winifred have seen many changes in Fifield and they have some interesting photographs of festive occasions in the 19th century, when young and old gathered on the Green or at the Bowling Club. Winifred has written a poem to commemorate the destruction of three beautiful elm-trees which stood on the Green, known locally as “The Owl”, “The Biggie” and “The Gillie”.

“These trees stood many years proud and bold
Through Spring’s pale green to Autumn’s gold
They are now laid to rest by the workman’s chore
Struck by the beetle as hundreds more.”

The house next to their home was built in 1859 as a Primitive Methodist Chapel and is now the Village Hall. Just one hundred years later another house was acquired for just 3s.6d.! It was offered as First Prize in a competition set by the ‘Daily Herald’.  The winner had to name the factors of House Safety in the right order.

Among Leslie’s collection of pictures is one of a hurdle-maker’s shop – one of the last in the County – and another of a fine wooden bridge spanning the land leading to the common land. It finally had to be removed because it was structurally unsound.

One of the Townsends’ favourite stories concerns an elderly couple named Gee who lived in a thatched cottage by the roadside. One window overlooking the street was placed very low and some mischievous boys came along one night and white-washed it all over.

“There must have been a very heavy frost last night, Mother”, old Mr Gee was heard to say, and it was not until the ‘frost’ was still there long after the sun had reached its zenith that he began to suspect something was wrong!

R.O.B. Long

This article led to a contribution from Mrs R. May Hall of Milton. She wrote:

“I was most interested to read in the April/May edition the story about Mr and Mrs Gee and the whitewashed window at Fifield, because they were my grandparents”.

At the age of eight Mrs Hall went to live with her grandmother while her mother was ill and attended Idbury School. She used to gather wood for their open fires from the woods next to “The Merrymouth” and recalls spending many happy hours on a little seat to the left of the fireplace.

Mrs Hall, who was married in Shipton Church 49 years ago, has lived in Oxford and Heathrow before returning to Milton where, she says, she has always hoped to end her days.

August-September 2021