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February 2023

Signs of Life in the Graveyard

Snowdrops at Westbury churchyard

The Monday Photo

I visited Shalstone church last week to find the graveyard full of snowdrops. Snowdrops like moist soil and light shade, which is why they were doing especially well by the hedge on the South side of the churchyard.

The latin name for the common snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis. They are found across the UK but are not a native plant; their natural range is mainland Europe. Although a wild flower, there are many variations sold for the gardener.

I have a few in my garden and like the ones in the graveyard, they are in clumps. The clumps get a bit crowded after a few years but they can be divided after flowering, so long as you replant them straight away.

Shalstone’s church of St Edward the Confessor’s was rebuilt in 1862 in the Gothic Revival style by Sir Gilbert Scott, all except the North aisle which dates from 1828.

Some say that the columns and responds (half columns at the arcade ends) of the North arcade may be as old as the 15th Century, but have been recut. There are monuments from the old church; one, a brass to Susan Kyngston, is dated 1540.

I think the church is usually open, though I didn’t have time to look inside. It’s nicely proportioned and restrained in design and there are nice carvings on the columns of the South arcade.

Snowdrops are a welcome sign that spring is on the way, so we will all be able to get out and  about in North Bucks, looking at the churches and all the other interesting places we have here.

I’ve already featured many of them here on the NBW, but I won’t be running out of subject matter any time soon; there are over 200 place names in North Bucks!

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Rocking Down the Line

Duckhams can guitarYes, that guitar is made out of a Duckhams oil can.

I was recently collared by musician Duncan Babbage (I’ve known him for years) on my way into The Old George in Stony Stratford.

He asked me to take a few stills and if possible video a couple of his numbers; his Duncan Disorderly Banned (band) was playing. Here’s the two videos I made that night. It’s the first time I’ve filmed a band in four years, and I'm quite pleased at the result.

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Amazingly Graceful

Cowper and Newton museum

The Cowper & Newton museum at Olney opened for the 2023 season on Shrove Tuesday, 21st February.

On that Tuesday every year their House manager Paula Noble dresses up in graceful Georgian period costume to publicise the museum at the town’s annual pancake race. The lace on her sleeves was made by her late mother.

The museum celebrates the lives and close friendship of the 18th century men William Cowper, renowned poet, and the Rev. John Newton, who threw his weight behind the abolition of the African Slave Trade. Of course, Newton was also the composer of the hymn Amazing Grace.

The museum will be open every week until 20th December from 11am-4:30pm, Tuesday to Saturday. But it will be closed on Good Friday (7th April) and on Coronation day (6th May).

It’s well worth a visit.

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Four Villages and a Bridge

An important little bridge

The Monday Photo

This river crossing, on a minor road between Thornborough and Leckhamstead is of more local importance than it first seems.

From the evidence, this was once the only accessible local route across the Ouse. There’s a bridge over the river not far away at Thornton, but that seems to be part of the manor grounds, so may not have been open to all. Thornton, by the way, is the site of a deserted Medieval village.

To support this, a trackway or lane once cut the corner between the Thornton to Thornborough road and the bridge, running along the parish boundary.

It would also have made a shorter journey to the water mill, not far upstream from the bridge. It appeared on the mid 19th Century Ordnance Survey 1” “Old Series” maps, but had gone from the maps half a century  later.

Four parishes meet at or by the bridge; Foscott, Leckhamstead, Thornton, and Thornborough.

I thought at first that this was so that each of the four parishes that found the bridge so important all claimed a part of it, so that all would be responsible for maintainance. But now I think only two of the parishes had responsibility for it; Foscott and Leckhamstead.

The small parish of Foscott, site of another deserted Medieval village, looks like it once didn’t quite reach the bridge. But it seems to have had its border extended from one corner over a couple of small fields just to reach it. I think this happened over seven hundred years ago, because of the 14th Century dispute over the bridge.

The dispute arose between the master of St. John’s Hospital, Oxford, and the inhabitants of Leckhamstead and Foscott. So Foscott parish must have already been altered to reach the bridge by then; the mill just upstream, granted to St. John’s Hospital, Oxford in 1244, needed access to the road network.

I think the condition of the bridge put that access into doubt, hence the dispute.

Altering parish boundaries doesn’t seem to be too unusual; there’s another example in Milton Keynes, part of the old parish of Woughton on the Green.

The bridge itself is not too remarkable, being an 18th Century brick recasing of an older, rubble stone structure; you might walk across it without a second glance. I wonder how old it is.

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Field Day

Ollie and his Diesel TE20Ollie Turner with his Diesel powered 1954 “Little Grey Field Mouse”. It’s only his second match with this particular tractor and mounted plough but he’s been competing for over twenty years.

When I found that some of my friends were in the North Bucks Vintage Tractor Club, I just had to go to the club's latest event; a ploughing match.

I turned up at the match in a field near Castlethorpe on a sunny Sunday morning in February to find plenty of classic and veteran tractors lining up to plough.

Progress was slow to begin with. The first spit or opening (the first furrow) is the most important one and there was plenty of stopping, adjusting, and starting again.

Every other furrow has to line up with the first spit. The ploughing has to be to a consistent depth and width, and be as straight as possible. That’s less easy than it sounds; soil varies, even in different parts of the same field. Moisture content makes a difference too.

The weather had been dry for a few days but a little rain beforehand would have made ploughing easier, one of the ploughmen told me.

International Harvester tractor and steepleClosest to the camera is an International Harvester B414. These tractors were built in Bradford between 1961 and 1966. Further away with Hanslope’s steeple beyond it, is a Massey Ferguson 65; big brother to the 35 (see the photo below) they were made in Detroit between 1958 and 1964.

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Lavendon's WW1 airfield

The Monday Photo

On the Harrold road from Lavendon is a field. Actually, there are lots of fields, but only one is known as the Aerodrome Field.

It’s easy to find. About a quarter of a mile out of the village is Snip Wood, next to the road on your right. The old airfield is then on your left, between the road and Lavendon Wood on the top of the hill.

But look on old maps and you’ll see that this was once three fields, and I think the aerodrome was in the middle one.

The nearer hedgerow for the middle field ran across the upper middle of the photo, starting from a little way past the bend in the hedge, on the left. The further hedgerow ran from about where the hedge on the left drops into shadow, again right across the photo.

I think it’s likely that the grass runway ran roughly along the route of the overhead lines, diagonally across that middle field.

That would give the aerodrome 1,200 feet of grass runway. That’s a luxurious amount of takeoff room for a Sopwith Camel, perhaps the most well known of the Royal Flying Corps’ First World War fighters.

Although it doesn’t look too level it’s a reasonably flat piece of land that points into the prevailing wind, and is higher than the surrounding land for approaching aircraft. I suppose there would have been another runway at a different angle for when the wind changed. 

The airfield was established by the Royal Flying Corps in October 1916, and intended for night landings and home defence, but never much used.

After the war the aerodrome was used by private aircraft enthusiasts, until it closed in the late 1920s. The field is under cultivation, and any evidence has long gone. But there is a memorial plaque at the front of Lavendon’s village hall.

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