Interview with Mrs. Barbara Hope (by Pam Haseltine), Bridge House, Hungerford, 28 September 1991
Barbara Hope was born in Bridge House in July 1899, where she is still living. Her grandfather bought the house in 1864 when he got married. They had their only child, Mrs. Hope's father, in the same house in March 1865. The name was Astley. Mrs. Hope's grandfather was a solicitor. He was one of six sons of the rector of Quennington in Gloucestershire. Three of his brothers were clerics, one a doctor and the other an architect. Mrs. Hope's father followed her grandfather as a solicitor and was solicitor and town clerk of Hungerford for 50 years. Thus Mrs. Hope has known Hungerford for the whole of this century. When she married in 1923 she went to live in Newbury which wasn't very far away, but her parents continued to live at Bridge House. She inherited it on their deaths but gave it to her son and daughter when they got married in 1953.
Mrs. Hope first went to school at Mrs. Froome's school at College House, next door, then at the age of eleven she went to Cheltenham Ladies College. Her mother was a Miss Richens. The Richens lived at North Standen. One of her mother's brothers lived at Rectory Farm - now called Parsonage Farm - and his daughter married a Nicol, who thus became a cousin by marriage.
Mrs. Hope said all the tradespeople were very helpful. She remembers Mr Pratt, the butcher, situated near where the Co-op is today, who continued in business until after World War II; Alexanders, the grocer, now the Hungerford Arcade. That was the best grocers shop; another grocer called Gingells preceded Spackmans; a third grocer galled Killicks was where the Chinese Take-away is now. A very good baker was Harris, where Landerama is now and of course Jessetts at Eddington was another famous baker. Jessetts also had the Post Office at Eddington. There were two good drapers - Bodmans, where the antique place is (Hungerford Gallery) and the one opposite Bridge House, now Althea's but previously it was Dopsons and before that belonged to Mr. Tyler and became Tyler and Banyard.
Mrs. Hope felt that her grandfather was almost a 'foreigner' in the town because the local shopkeepers had been there for generations. However, the motor car has brought about a tremendous change. She can remember a picture of a small boy spinning his top in the High Street and you could cross the road without bothering to look. When her pony belted up the High Street at the smell of the pig man there was nothing in the way. If there had been any traffic there would have been an accident.
Outside the town every tradesman had a delivery cart but around the town they had errand boys who came with baskets to deliver goods. The Astleys never shopped at all as regards carrying anything home from the shops. There was a saddlers at the Old Malt House in Bridge Street. He made everything for horses and was kept very busy. There were two blacksmiths - one at The Forge (Vic Caswell) and one in Eddington (Wiggins).
The children used to spin tops in the street and immediately the autumn came, out came the hoops. The boys had iron hoops which they used to catch with a hooked metal rod and the girls had wooden hoops and. sticks. Mrs. Hope couldn't remember any sort of vandalism.
When Mrs. Hope was a child their dining room bow window faced the canal. Although they had to behave very correctly at table, the one thing they were allowed to do was to run to the window when a barge came by. The boats -were beginning to dwindle at the beginning of the century but in her father's time there were a lot of barges on the canal. After that she railway took a great deal of the traffic. In her childhood perhaps four or five a day would pass, all carrying goods. There were no pleasure barges. They would be carrying coal, wheat and other farm produce and. bulk goods.
It was a special treat to go to Reading or Newbury by train and they always went on their summer holidays by train. However most of the time they travelled locally by pony trap. The Bath Road was not tarmaced until after World War I. During World War I, with all the military traffic, it was a quagmire with great ruts and the dust used to fly everywhere. When the milkman was delivering the milk in open cans from the churn the dust used to fly off canal bridge into the milk jugs. The Bath Road and the High Street and other main streets were probably tarmaced in the early 1920s.
Mrs. Hope thinks that there was main drainage in their house in the last century though most people didn't get it until the 1930s. Her father didn't connect electricity to the house until the early 1930s although some people had it in the 1920s. Before electricity they had gas light with incandescent burners and mantles also gas lighting in the streets. Hungerford had its own gas works in Charnham Street. In the spring - and only in the spring - in Mrs. Hope's youth, did they kill lambs. Then the butcher's boy used to bring down to their house a large basket of lambs tails, covered with a white napkin. The tails were all skinned and cleaned ready for the cook to make into lambs tail pie. It was a great favourite of the Edwardians and very cheap. Lambs tails definitely disappeared in World War I. The butchers hadn't got time to skin them.
Mrs. Hope had her father's housekeeping book which recorded the wages of all the staff. Her nanny had £19 a year, the cook £17 and the house parlour maid £12. A house of the size of Bridge House with only two children and two adults had a staff of a nanny, a cook, a house parlour maid, a woman for the rough, a gardener and a gardener's boy.
Mrs Froome's school was an excellent one for teaching and when Mrs. Hope went to Cheltenham College and sat her entrance exam they reported that she "had been very well grounded". So Mrs. Froome and her daughter must have been well educated. Miss Froome was a rather strange person and never married. Mostly the girls went on to bigger schools as they grew older out Dolly Pratt was so homesick she was allowed to stay at Mrs. Froome's until she was about seventeen. Miss Richens also ran a school in Hungerford but that was after Mrs. Froome gave up. She started up after World War I and continued for a short time after World War II. Her school was on the west side of the High Street, near Barclay's Bank. She turned part of her parents house into a school. She probably only had about eight or nine pupils.
Because Mrs. Hope had three great uncles who were in the church, the Astley family were always very friendly with the local vicars. She remembers the Rev. T. S. Gray, who came about 1909 and stayed until 1924- He married Mrs. Hope to her husband. He retired to Scotland as he loved fishing and shooting, but not hunting. The Rev. Butler was the huntsman and he was reputed to go to church in his riding boots! The Rev. Gray was lieutenant of the Fire Brigade as was Mrs. Hope's father before him in 1891. Mr. Cottrell, Mr. Astley, Mr. Platt and Mr. Beard all clubbed together in 1891 to raise money to buy a fire engine. Mr. Astley thought they were aiming rather high to get a steam one, but they raised all the money quite easily. Mrs. Hope went to the centenary celebrations in September 1991- She also attended the celebrations in 1910 when they got their first motor engine the 'John of Gaunt'.
The Willes family, whose ancestors came to Hungerford Park in 1784 and remained there till 1900, when Col. Willes had to leave the Park as he lost a lot of money. He and his family of four daughters moved to the 'High House' in Charnham Street which is now Mary Bellis Antiques. He was in no way related to the Wills of Littlecote and the name was spelt differently.
The Rev. Denning was a little tubby man and he had a bicycle with two cross bars. He had great difficulty in mounting the machine. He would lean over and grasp the handlebars then put his foot on the spoke protruding from the back wheel, give a push and leap. Then he was away. He was a great cricketer, as were his two sons. The Hungerford cricket team had the Jennings, Dr. Starkey-Smith, Mr. New from Chilton Foliat (probably the agent at Littlecote) in the team so they had very good matches and an excellent ground on what they used to call the 'new common', near Bulpit Lane. The Rev. Denning's daughter did all the scoring.
Mrs. Hope remembers old Dr. Major who rode on horseback, old Dr. Barker who rode in a high dog cart to see his patients before World War I. Dr. Major lived in the High Street in the house now occupied by Brading Cryer the accountants. As he was returning home early one morning a friend greeted him by saying "You are up early, Dr. Major ", to which he replied "I have been up all night bringing Miss Astley into the world". That was on July 3rd. 1899- Mrs Hope remarked on how manners have changed. "It's a forgotten world!" She was also very friendly with Dr. Starkey-Smith in the 1936s and remembers him talking about Lytton Strachey at Ham Spray House.
Mrs. Hope has written down her story with lots of family anecdotes but unfortunately her sight has gone so she cannot see to read. She hopes her daughter will have time to look out the reminiscences for us to see.