Betty Healing Childhood Memories
Betty Healing, who died on July 3rd, was most helpful when I was drawing up plans at the outset of the project “Chipperfield Within Living Memory”. I had recalled that in 1990 she had written an article about her childhood memories in the Chess Valley and from that I sensed that she would be a helpful person with whom to chat and mull over ideas.
As a tribute to Betty, I have selected just a few edited excerpts from her own story:
I was born and brought up in a beautiful but remote part of the Chess Valley in the early
nineteen twenties. On one side was Sarratt and on the other was Chenies. I lived on a small farm with my parents in Sarratt Vale. Altogether there were eight families living in the valley. There were two farms and the larger one was farmed by Mr. Saunders. This area was called the Bottom. Two lanes led up to Sarratt called the Top; one was Moor Lane and the other was Dawes Lane. There was no vehicle access to Chenies other than by pony and trap going through the river at the Splash or by bicycle over the only footbridge.
I came from an old Chenies family and at that time there were four generations living in the village and so I spent most of my time on that side of the valley.
Our cottage, two up and two down with an outside loo, had an old fashioned grate with a boiler on one side, an oven on the other and in front a swinging thvet on which the kettle stood. My mother knew only too well how to black-lead a grate. There was no electricity in the valley, only gas. For lighting, we had an oil lamp, then we progressed to a shiny, chrome Aladdin lamp, which burnt pink paraffin.
My mother helped my auntie and uncle on their smallholding. She was good at milking cows but not so my father. I used to feed the chickens and collect the eggs but I viewed the pigs from afar. Mother loved to have young lambs indoors and fed them with a bottle in front of the fire. We always had fresh warm milk straight from the cow on our breakfast cereal, called Force. This was all before the days of pasteurisation and T.T. testing. Butter making was a tedious job. Auntie sat for hours with a churn on her lap turning the handle until the cream was ready for making butter. Sometimes it wouldnt “turn” at all.
I attended Chenies School as did my father and grandfather. To get to school, I had a two mile walk over the moor by Mount Wood and along the lane, after crossing the river to the three step field. This was a short cut to Chenies Common, avoiding Holloway Hill, which is very steep. From the top of the field, I could see my mother waiting on the moor to see me. Winter months were very tiring for tiny feet, when the snow lay deep crisp and even. We wore macs and wellies or sometimes gaiters that had to be done up with a button hook and usually pinched our legs.
Our teacher Mrs. Life lived in a house adjoining the school. She was affectionately known as Guvness. She did so many things to make our schooldays happy, probably drying my wet clothes around the old classroom boiler and doing jacket potatoes for lunch. The school caretaker used to bring windfall apples and somehow we baked these as well. In the summer, our desks were put outside in an open fronted shelter. Before Easter, Guvness dyed hard-boiled eggs pink and her husband used to hide them in the hedgerows for us to find.
When one day, during the summer term, the needlework inspector arrived in her car which was so thick with dust you could write your name in it, I couldnt resist the temptation! A few days later, I was called out in front of the class by the school governor, who was also the village overseer, and needless to say I ended up in the corner!
The day I acquired a bicycle was a turning point for me, albeit an old black contraption of the “sit up and beg” type with one brake on the front wheel. Pushing it up Holloway Hill was compensated for by riding it down again. Whitehill School for Girls was the venue for the rest of my education, except for one term. If I missed the coach from Chenies, I had to cycle all the way to Chesham. I had violin lessons after school and then had to travel back to Chenies by public transport. The problem then arose when I had to travel back home with my violin case balanced on the handlebars.
When I took part in a music festival at Berkhamsted, I was given a much treasured badge of St. Cecilia, goddess of music.
Little did I know that Chipperfield would become my home. In 1937, my father and Mr. Stockley decided to buy a plot of land in Chipperfield and each started his own smallholding. Two bungalows were built and we were ready to go. (Mr. Stockleys bungalow was at the end of what is now New Road) Mr. Stockley already had chickens and so the henhouses had to be taken down. I was volunteered to help with his wife who was given to fits of laughter! Suddenly, seeing the funny side of things, she dropped the part she was holding and it wasnt the sound of cackling hens that came from the inside the henhouse! The chickens were crated and transported in a motorbike and sidecar and I made the last journey on my old bike. A new life was to begin in Chipperfield with all mod-cons, water on tap and a bus at the end of the road.
I have been able to confirm through burial records and through my mother aged 93 that I have three family members buried at Chenies baptist church, the link being the family name of Saunders. My greatgrand mother and father who dies of natural causes and a great auntie who committed suicide in the river chess when she found out that on the death of her parents she was going to be moved to a poor house. My great grandparents lived in the cottages on the left as you enter Chenies village. I also note there was an 11 year old Saunders who was buried at Chenies in 1963. THis would suggest that up to 1963 my mothers relatives still remained in the area I would be keen to contact any one who may be able to shed some light as to whether any of my Mothers extended relative still live in the area. Interestingly my mothers father was the duke of bedford bat man and she lived and played in the Chenies manor estate. She still has many memories/history of the area to pass on.April 9, 2012