Monday, 25 February 2019

Back to School

Back to School

The summer holidays were over and I was back at school, and I was going up to form three in the big room, and under the tuition of the Headmaster. I soon realised that this was going to be no picnic, he moved around the classroom all day with the cane under his arm. When he went to lunch he used to hang it on the blackboard till he came back. He was very keen on teaching copywriting, two fingers on the pen, if he saw you with only one finger on the pen, he would walk over and give you such a cut across the fingers knocking the pen flying, before you could recover from the shock he would grab you by the hair of the head and drag you across the desk and give you six of the best across the seat of the pants. He treated the girls the same, they had no preferential treatment, I well remember one occasion when he had given me a caning for something I had not done I decided to get my own back. I waited for him to go to his lunch, I then took his cane off the blackboard and broke it up and hid it behind the radiator. On returning from lunch he missed his cane and immediately grabbed the first boy he could lay his hands on, by the hair, shook him and demanded who has had my cane, the boy naturally frightened told him that I had. The master then rushed out of school and returned a few minutes later with another stick, and my word did he lay on, I had a job to sit down for about a week, mind you looking back it was a silly thing to do and perhaps I really did deserve it.
Our schoolmaster had a garden on the opposite side of the road to his house, at the back of his house he had a sty where he kept pigs, one of our jobs about twice a week was to clean the pigsty out, load the manure onto a wheelbarrow and push it over the road and tip it on the garden to act as fertilizer. One day as we crossed the road we noticed a shepherd coming down the road with a flock of sheep, so we left the gate open. You know what sheep are like one old ewe saw the gate open, looked in saw the big patch of winter greens , went baa, and the lot were in like a shot, the shepherd sent his dog, to fetch them out, we ran to help as well , but in no time the whole patch of greens was gone, not even the stalks left. The master hearing the commotion rushed out of school, when he saw what had happened he ordered us all into school and told us never again would we be allowed to clean his pigs out. This was just what we wanted as it was a very dirty job, we would much rather be in school learning reading, writing and arithmetic. Although barred from cleaning out the pigsty, we had other work to do in the masters garden, and in the toolshed he kept a small barrel of cider, it was full but there was no tap in it, so we got some straws, withdrew the vent plug and sucked the cider out with the straws, this went on for weeks, then one day after dinner the master came into the school reached for his cane and said come out all the boys who have been working in my garden, I thought this is it, and it was. We formed a line in front of the class and wack he took the first one, at the same time saying who has been drinking my cider, he then proceeded to serve us all the same, six of the best but everyone kept mum, and he never did find out where his cider disappeared to, needless to say we were never again allowed to work in his garden. In a field near to the school were some milking cows and some boys including myself, used to crawl up a ditch at the side of the field and wait for the cows to come close, then we used to milk them into tin cans and drink it, one day we were spotted by a man who looked after the cows from a building some distance away, just after dinner there came a rap on the door, the master answered it then turned round and said come out you, you and you, we were confronted by the man who looked after the cows, he had a long carriage whip in his hand, about ten feet long, he then started to lash out with the whip, we dodged and with the whip being so long he could not hit anybody, after about five minutes he said get back into school, I hope that will be a lesson to you, nobody had been hit once.
I recall a few lines about our Scoolmaster they go like this:

Our Master is a very good man
He teaches the children all he can
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
But he never forgets 
To give them the stick
When he does he makes them dance
Out of England into France
Out of France into Spain 
Over the hills and back again

Saturday, 23 February 2019



As a boy I used to enjoy wandering in the woods alone, studying the birds and animals and learning woodcraft, for instance if you hear a Jay calling, you can be sure there is someone about, and whichever way the Jay is going, so the person he is watching is going. The horse too, if you are in a wood with a horse watch his ears, they will soon tell you if there is anybody about. I also studied the footprints of different animals and birds and learned to tell what they were. I learned how to walk in the woods, always walk quietly walk a few paces, then stop, look, and listen it is possible to walk up quite close up to most animals and birds this way. Watch a cat or a fox when they are hunting they are never in a hurry. I learned how to set snares and how to set them up to catch rabbits. About this time my Dad made me a catapult and showed me how to use it, my Dad was the best shot I ever saw with a catapult, he could shoot up a two inch drain pipe at twenty yards nine times out of ten, I could never attain that standard. I think that there is nothing nicer than to quietly into a wood on a nice day, and sit down on an old tree stump, relax and keep still, in a few minutes the wood will come to life all around you, the animals and birds all going about their business in there own little way, and they will take no notice of you as long keep quiet and still. I know that all game-keepers do not like people walking about in the woods, it is only natural, disturbing the game, and they take a dim view of it, but if you know your woodcraft, and watch the signs the animals and birds will give you, the keeper will not get within a mile of you all day. 

The Mole Catcher

Another man I call to mind who worked in the woods in the winter was old Frank the mole catcher, during the summer he worked on the farms, you could see him any morning in the winter just as it was breaking light going along the road on his way to the woods. He carried a small spade with a long handle, and the blade of the spade was polished like silver, he had knee pads strapped to his knees, and always wore a long thick jacket with large pockets. His method of work when he got to the wood was to go round all his traps and take out all the moles he had caught overnight, then reset all his traps again, he would then skin all the moles he had caught, and then have his breakfast. It was now time to go round all the traps again, take out the moles and skin them, he would then go home arriving at about two o'clock. He would return to the woods the following morning, and proceed as yesterday, after dinner he would get the mole skins and tack them onto boards and rum saltpetre on them. After the pelts were cured he would pack them into parcels and send them to the furriers in London to be made into ladies mole skin coats, very much the fashion in those days. Frank made all his own traps out of wood, the loops being made of horse hair, combed from horses tails, these were much better than the metal traps as the did not damage the pelts. Such was his knowledge of moles that he had only to walk quietly through a wood and he would say there are so many moles in her, and when they were caught he would perhaps be two out. Mole catching today is a lost art, now done by the rodent operator, with their modern methods.

Friday, 22 February 2019



During the winter months the Squire used to throw shooting parties for his friends, and the school boys used to be allowed time off from school to go beating, by beating I mean walking through the woods beating the bushes with sticks to drive out the game. We boys would assemble at a prearranged time and place in the morning together with some of the estate men, and a game-keeper, who would get us organised into a line at the edge of the wood , when everybody was ready a signal was given, we then proceeded to walk through the woods driving the game before us over the guns, who were waiting on the other side of the wood. By lunch time  we were all getting tired and hungry after walking through the woods all morning. Lunch would be taken at a keepers cottage in the woods, where we would be served with large lumps of bread and cheese, washed down with horns of good ale poured from stoneware bottles. After lunch we were again organised into lines, and proceeded to walk through the woods, as we did in the morning, driving the game before us. Shooting finished about half past four in the afternoon when it started to get dark, the game was then loaded onto the game cart and taken to the game larder, the head keeper would then pay the beaters and tell them they could go home, and the time and place to meet next morning, you had usually two or three miles to walk home, where you arrived very tired but happy, after a good day out in the fresh air in the woods. These shooting parties usually lasted two or three days, and we were always very sorry when they were over, they were very happy days for us boys.  

In the woods

When there was no beating I used to spend a day or two in the woods with the woodmen. This I really enjoyed, my Mum would cut me a large lump of bread, some cheese and some rashers of home cured bacon, put them in a bag and off I would go to the woods, to find the woodmen. They would be busy tree planting or felling timber, they used to build a log cabin, the roof was thatched with bracken, to have their meals in, and as protection from inclement weather. My job was to collect firewood and to get a good fire going ready for mealtime, the fire was made on the ground in the shape of a pyramid, when mealtime came we would sit round the fire, after first making a toasting fork out of a stick split at the end, we would then proceed to frizzle our bacon and toast our cheese. I also enjoyed watching the timber haulier at work, he had a wonderful team of horses, great big powerful beasts, it was marvellous to see how the horses behaved to his word of command, some years later I married his daughter Nancy to whom I have been married over forty years. 

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution

 It is hard to realise today, that sixty years ago there were hardly any motor cars, no petrol stations, no buses or lorries, no wireless or television, no public telephones, power stations or electric light. In those days the railways were the pride of our transport system, steam powered locomotives attaining speeds of sixty or seventy miles an hour, this has been only slightly improved on by our present day modern system. The horse sixty years ago was the most important form of transport used for practically everything, anything to do with horses was big business. Sixty years ago very few roads had tar macadam surfaces the roads were more or less rough gravel tracks, and the mud in winter and the dust in summer was something that had to be seen to be believed.  I well remember people throwing up their hands in horror when they surfaced the roads, they said all the horses would fall down and break their legs. As there was no public telephones, when anyone was ill, someone in the village had to ride either into Bridgnorth, Shifnal or Madely to fetch a doctor, then wait till he returned from visiting the patient in a horse and trap, the doctor then had to mix the medicine in his dispensary, the person who had fetched the doctor then returned home. And remember the doctor had to be paid, no health service in those days. The lighting in houses in the village in those days was parrifin oil lamps. What a difference today, sending rockets to the moon, not even thought of when I was a boy.

I start School

I was lucky, I had only a short distance to go to school, I started when I was four years of age. The school was an ordinary village school, comprised of two class-rooms, one large room one small room. The teaching staff was three, a headmaster and two lady teachers. As far as I can remember I got on fairly well in the lower classes under the lady teachers. I do not remember getting into too much trouble; I imagine I was of about average intelligence, not brilliant by any means. 


Our holidays were spent according to the seasons, Easter holidays were usually spent in the woods picking primroses and running errands. Whitsun holidays were spent in the woods, picking bluebells and collecting firewood, and helping in the garden, there was always plenty to do in the garden at Whitsun. The summer holidays were spent almost entirely in the harvest fields, carrying dinners and teas for the men who were working there, chasing rabbits as they ran out of the corn as it was cut by the machine drawn by horses, there were no combine harvesters as we know today. If we managed to catch a rabbit, as we often did, we were allowed to take it home to be made into rabbit pie for our dinner next day. Xmas holidays were usually spent sliding on the frozen ponds and snowballing, the winters were much more severe when I was a boy, than they are now.

Village Life

Village life

Sixty years ago everybody in the village had a large well kept garden, this was an absolute necessity, as wages were low and it had to keep the family in vegetables all the year round, and also grow sufficient potatoes to feed a pig. 

Every cottager fed a pig as that was relied on for the next year's bacon. As children we had to pick wild ash from the hedgerows and nettles to feed the pigs. The pigs were bought from the farmers in the spring when they were about eight weeks old and fed on through the summer by the cottagers. About the end of November the pig killing season started, the pigs were killed at night, hung up and allowed to set until the next night.  When it was cut up, pieces of the inside pork and offal were taken round to the neighbours as a treat, who returned the compliment when they killed their pig. 

The remaining portions flitches, hams, chauls , high pieces, feet, ears, and tail were all salted down for about  a month and then taken out, hung up and allowed to dry, that was the next years bacon supply. 

Hours of work were very long in those days compared with today, six till six, six days a week, the only holidays were Good Friday and Xmas Day, no annual holiday as we know today. Sunday work in those days was frowned on, Sunday was kept as a rest day, usually the men went to church in the morning and the ladies at night, the children attended Sunday school and church in the morning and Sunday school in the afternoon.

Village life in our village sixty years ago, was run more or less by five people, the Squire, the Agent, the Parson, the School Master and the village Policeman. 

The Squire

 Mr. Foster known to the villagers as Long Harry was a tall wiry man with a beard, he was a very good horseman, and was very fond of fox hunting, a devout churchman and gave the living to several churches in the district. Both he and his Lady used to drive to church every Sunday morning in a carriage drawn by a pair of high stepping black horses. He devoted his time looking after the welfare of his estate and employees; he could be seen any day riding round on horseback, visiting the various farms, cottages, and woods on his estate. 

He lived in a beautiful mansion named Apley Park, built of Grinsill stone, surrounded by a large deer park in which roamed deer, long haired scotch cattle and sheep, I never knew the name of the breed, but their wool reached down to the ground. 

To keep the mansion up to the standard he desired, he employed a large number of servants, about twelve gardeners, three coachmen, six grooms, a blacksmith to attend to the horses feet, a house carpenter, an engineer who drove two steam engines which drove the dynamos for making electric light, there was no power stations in those days. 
The indoor staff consisted of about twenty maids, plus butler, footmen, hall boy and odd men. 

In 1910 Mr. Foster built a bridge across the river Severn for easy access to Linley railway station, at a cost of £10,000  to commemorate the coming of age of his son, Major A.W. Foster.

The Estate Agent

The estate agent was Mr. Wilson, known to the villagers as old Bug, was rather a portly type of man, he ran the estate from the administrative angle, he lived with his wife and two daughters at the south lodge, Norton. His two daughters Miss Peggy and Miss Molly were about the same age as me, and were very kind and used to pass on to me books when they had finished with them, they also gave me Xmas presents which were greatly appreciated. Mr. Wilson lived in a rather lavish style and he kept three maids and a governess and a groom –gardener and a youth. He went round the estate either on horseback or in a horse and trap, he had two offices, one in Norton and one in Bridgnorth and he divided his time between the two.

The Parson

The Rev. Owen the parson in our village was loved by everyone, if any-one in the village was ill he was soon there to render what assistance he could. At Xmas he was exceptionally good, both he and his wife used to organise a Xmas party complete with a huge Xmas tree for all the children in the village, after an excellent tea, games would be played , the children would assemble round the Xmas tree and carols would be sung, when they were finished each child’s name would be called out and given a present out of the Xmas tree before they went home.

The Schoolmaster

The village schoolmaster was a Victorian type gentleman, with a beard. Although he turned out some very good scholars, he was very fond of using the cane, of which I had my share, not always deserved.

The village policeman

The village Policeman, although he did not have many cases, kept order by his very presence, a quiet word, or sometimes a cut across the pants with his cane, was usually sufficient.

Social Services

It must be remembered that there were no social services in those days, no retirement pensions, no sickness benefit, no unemployment benefit, if a man fell ill or became unemployed, he had nothing until he got better or found another job.

Preface & First Memory

My Memories

1905 - 1967 by John Weston


I was born at 56 Meredith Street, Crewe on the 18th of November 1905, at 5 o'clock in the morning. I was told later that there was a severe Frost the previous night, and my dad dashing up the street to fetch the midwife slipped on a sheet of ice and sat down heavily on the Pavement.  a good start.
My parents were both of Anglo Saxon stock, my ancestors having lived on the north Shropshire plain for generations. In fact the family can be traced back to Saxon times. I consider that I have lived through a period of one of the greatest industrial and social revolutions plus two wars, in the history of our great country. I will now describe incidents that have happened in my life during this period. Some will be amusing, some sober, some tragic but all will be interesting to the reader.
My father left Crewe in 1907 where he had been employed for several years in the railway work shops, and just took a job at Norton, Shifnal On the estate of mister W H Foster. My father remained in the employ of the Foster family until his death in 1949. He was buried at Stockton in the new cemetery on the north side, a curb in polished granite marking his last resting place.

My first memory

It was spring 1908. I was in the garden with my dad who was preparing the ground to plant potatoes when he cut of stick to act as a marker for setting potatoes. Dad made the trenches and I set the potatoes measuring the distance between them with the stick. I was 3 years old then, in successive years I took a bigger part in the gardening programme

Thursday, 21 February 2019


In a box, we found a manuscript which had been typed laboriously on pink paper with only a few typing errors.

It was a story that sadly was not finished - but gives a lovely insight into life and times in Shropshire during the last century.

The story of John Weston - known as Jack

And here you can read as I transcribe the manuscript..

Jack Weston - Memoirs