Betty Cunningham's Memoirs


Reading through the list of names in the 1914 Kelly’s Trade
Directory brought back many memories to Betty Cunningham. Although Betty was not around in 1914, many of the people mentioned were still alive when Betty was young.
Betty was born in Ecton and lived at the bottom of the village. Her father (Jimmy Hall) was stockman on the Sotherby estate. The Mrs. Sotheby mentioned in the 1914 list was the mother of the Colonel Sotheby that many people remember. In 1914 Colonal Sotherby was away in the war and didn’t marry until after the war ended.
The estate kept two Jersey cows, the milk which is very creamy was kept for the Sotherby’s own use. Betty’s father was also responsible for the pigs and the smallest pig in the litter (the Dilly) was taken home and put in a laundry basket by the fire for warmth.
One of Betty’s earliest memories was coming home at lunch time (no school meals in those days) and being asked by her neighbour Mrs. Pinney to go to Ellen Darkers (Beer retailers) at 54 High Street for a jug of beer. Beer, six pence a pint was poured from the cask into your own jug. As well as selling beer, Ellen Darker also seems to have sold general commodities.
Another estate worker was John Copnall, the carpenter, he lived in a cottage where the allotments are now. He was often seen walking up the village street in his white carpenters apron. His grand-daughter still lives in the village at 58, High St.
Frank Johnson who kept the post office (2, High St.) had four daughters, three of them moved from the village, but May remained and followed in her father’s footsteps. May organised many fundraising events and with the proceeds various outings were arranged including a trip to Leamington Spa to see the illuminations in the park.
Not only was George Langley (48, High St.) a shop keeper but also a carrier. He had a bus cum van drawn by horses and would take the village children on half day trips to Wickstead Park. Betty seems to remember that his daughter, Amy kept many dogs. Only the more important people in the village were mentioned in the Directories, someone who wasn’t mentioned but never the less was of great importance to the children was Billy Nicholls because he sold sweets. He lived in a cottage between High Street and Back lane (West St.) in Green’s Yard. A small room had been converted into a tiny shop which sold only sweets. ‘Fishes’, ‘Tommy rock balls’, ‘liquorice alsorts’ rasberry .....’, Pear drops and the children would call in on their way to school to spend their half pennies. The cottage had a window which faced on to High Street, in this window was displayed the Fancy Dress prizes. Mr Simco organised this event as part of Hospital Week.
Shopkeeper David Penn was a clock and watch repairer, every repair cost 7shillings and six pence. He lived in a three storey cottage that butted out into High Street close to the present day 40 High Street. When travelling around the countryside on his bike mending clocks and watches he always wore a bowler hat. Looking through the front window one could see his work bench and tools, but the
rest of the room was screened from public view. Mischievous children of Ecton would put fire crackers through his keyhole on bonfire night.
Frost Baker, the blacksmith was bald headed and one of the village ‘characters’. He lived and worked in Blacksmiths Yard. On Saturday morning children would watch him and Harry Lester the Wheelwright at work.
Another craftsmen the children would watch in their spare time was John Green a Wheelwright mending and making wheels, and when needed coffins. His house ‘Wheelwrights Cottage’ was situated on High Street, but his work shed was on Back Lane, two or three cottages were in Green’s Yard between his house and his workshop, in one of these was someone who sold crockery.
Living in Back Lane was George Darker, the tailor, he had two sons one of whom, Tom was deaf and dumb so he had to learn sign language. At one time George’s neice was a teacher at the village school, she was interested in amateur dramatics.
Living at Ecton Cottage (The Cott, 41 High St.) were the Gambles. Both Conrad and his wife were very tall and thin. They had a son, Rodney who had a Go-cart housed in a shed in the garden. Betty’s aunt was a servant at the cottage so Betty managed a ride on the Go-cart.
A great deal of the social life of the village centred around the Church and
Chapel and although Betty was Chapel she still attended Rev. Jepson’s ‘Girl’s Friendly Society’ meetings in the Rectory Room. Rev. Jepson placed a single rose in a vase on each of the tables. Rev. John Field, the Baptist minister was the son of John Turland Field, the butcher and they lived at Pear Tree Cottage where John Turland had his butcher’s shop. At Chapel meetings Betty joined The Band of Hope and signed the pledge (no partaking of alcoholic drinks). The highlight of the year was the Whitsun Walks followed by games and tea in Dick’s field. In the winter there were visits by Tommy Noble and his Magic Lantern Show.
When Betty left school, aged 14 she went to work for Edgar Dicks at Manor Farm earning seven shillings a week, having 2 half day holidays a week, Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. Between 8-9am and 5-5.30pm milk was sold to the villagers at twopence halfpenny a pint, the rest of the milk going to commercial dairies. A dozen eggs cost one shilling and three pence.
These are only a small part of Betty’s memoirs. She said that although life was physically hard and there was little money to spare for luxuries there was still much to smile about. Entertainment was mostly confined to village activities but never the less was varied and stimulating.
Maybe other people have interesting stories to tell about life in Ecton in the last century. The people who live in Ecton now would be more than happy to hear their tales.