Memories of Bellingdon

Miss Emma Harding of Savecroft Farm, Bellingdon, near Chesham, writes of her grandparents Daniel and Emma Harding who told her of their childhood in the country. Daniel Harding was bom in 1847. His grandfather was a farm bailiff at Ashley Green and was born in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Daniel and Emma were married in July 1871. They walked to the church in Chesham for the wedding. Weddings were performed free to encourage couples to get married because so many people were living together.

When Emma Harding was a girl still at school, she got a job at a silk factory. She regretted it but her mother made her leave school to keep her promise to go to work. She had to get up in the dark and walk through unlit lanes to work.

Later she took a job nearer home, joining other girls and women in plaiting straw. These straws were first split with a little wooden implement and then plaited. The plaits were then taken to Luton to be made into straw boaters for men. This was a flourishing cottage industry around Chesham. A highly skilled worker could make sixty yards of 'three score' a day, but as the best price was a shilling a score or less she could hardly earn a pound in a seven day week.

Both plaiters and lacemakers did without a fire because they had to keep the work clean, so they filled an earthenware pot with hot wood ashes and warmed their hands with it and sometimes they would put it under their skirts to warm their legs. These pots were called 'chaddy pots'. When the warm weather came they took the plaiting out of doors.

The corn was cut and tied by hand and there was one lady who cut and tied two sheaves of corn when she was a hundred and two years of age. A lot of the straw was taken to London to sell as there were many stables in London in those days.
The women and children picked up stones from the fields and these were placed in heaps by the roadside ready for road mending.

Once a week the huge brick oven was heated with furze, cut from the common, and faggots and when the oven was white hot all the cinders were removed.
A long wet mop cleaned the oven and then loaves of bread were gently laid in rows at the back of the oven using a wooden shovel called a 'peal'. Then at the mouth of the oven meat pies and cakes were placed. These lasted the family all the week.

Emma Harding (died Dec. 1973), D. Mills Bellingdon & Asheridge

Extracted from 'A Pattern Hundreds' (1975) and reproduced with the kind permission of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes