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Short accounts by Tring residents of aspects of their lives and of past events,
collected and preserved by local historian Jill Fowler.



TRING AT WAR 1914-1918, by John Bowman

THE COUNCIL, by Bob Grace

TRING FIRE SERVICE (author unknown)


EARLY DAYS OF THE WAR, by Doris Miller

MEMORIES OF A TRING EVACUEE, by Joyce Hollingworth


AKEMAN STREET IN THE 30s AND 40s, by Doug Sinclair


TRING AT WAR 1914-1919
Researched and written by John Bowman.

August 1914: Reservists were reporting to their Naval and Army establishments, and the Territorial Army mustered at their local drill halls.  The Territorials were primarily a home defence force of volunteers who were requested to sign for service where required; the majority volunteered at the outbreak of war.

Lord Kitchener, an outstanding military engineer and soldier, and well known for his service in Egypt, The Sudan and South Africa, was appointed Minister of War.  He immediately asked for 100,000 volunteers to supplement the small regular army, most of which was engaged in France supporting the French and Belgians against the Kaiser’s army.  The 100,000 target was achieved in the first few days following the proclamation.  Preparations were then made for the recruitment of a further 100,000 men.

In September 1914, it was rumoured locally that a new Army Division was to be formed at Halton Park, which had been offered to the crown as a Rothschild contribution to the war effort.  A tented camp was erected on what is now the Halton Airfield and men began arriving from the north-east, from Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire to form the new army
s 21st. Division.

Due to a very wet autumn, the tented camp was soon waterlogged and the soldiers were out housed in any available accommodation.  Three thousand soldiers were billeted in Tring, mostly with local householders.  The school in the High Street was commandeered.  The pupils were accommodated in various locations.  The boys went to the Church House and Market House/Hall.  The girls went to the lecture hall in the High Street Free Church, and the Western Hall, which was situated where Stanley Gardens is now.

The ‘gallant lads at Halton Park’ in a sea of mud.

The Victoria Hall and the Gravelly School became medical and hospital accommodation, the infant pupils being housed in the Sunday School Room of the Akeman Street Baptist Chapel.  The YMCA building, in the Tabernacle Yard, Akeman Street was opened as writing and reading rooms for the soldiers.  Bathing facilities were installed in the Museum’s outbuildings.

A bathing parade.

The billeting rates paid for soldiers were quite generous for the time and, no doubt, supplemented the income of the townspeople, which was lost when so many of the population volunteered.

In November, it was reported that Arthur Wells who lived at Tringford had been lost at sea.  He was a stoker in the Royal Navy, and had been recalled at the beginning of the war.  He was serving in HMS Aboukir, a cruiser.  His Majestys Ships, Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue were elderly ships of the “Battle” class [Ed. – Cressy class] and all three were lost, torpedoed in the North Sea, on the same day, 22nd September 1914.  Reginald Seabrook of Tring, a seaman, was serving on HMS Hogue when it was sunk and he was picked up from the sea.

Together with sister ships Aboukir and Cressy, HMS Hogue was torpedoed and
sunk in the North Sea by the German submarine U-9 on the 22nd September, 1914.
In total, 62 officers and 1,397 enlisted men were lost in this disastrous engagement,
which revealed to a complacent Royal Navy the danger of submarine warfare.

In Tring, various groups of ladies were knitting comforts for the troops, scarves, gloves and balaclava helmets were welcomed by all the troops in the trenches.  The front had settled to a line which was to stay until early 1918.  The trench systems throughout were an elaborate mishmash of deeply excavated trenches in the Arras/Somme area, to built up defences in the flat coal mining areas around Vimy/Lens/Bully and the Ypres salient, where water would appear at two to three feet under the surface.  Large quantities of sandbags were needed for the defences.  Also wattle hurdles, chestnut paling and withy fascines.  The manufacture of these was a rural craft, a local industry.  Of course, the manufacture of sandbags was a commercial undertaking.  It is estimated that each division of 15,000 men would need over one million bags a month.

The voluntary effort by women’s groups to make sandbags was organised by a Miss Tyler who worked from North London as a collecting point.  The purchase of hessian was undertaken locally, in the Home Counties.  Women’s groups made the bags measuring 33 inches long by 14 inches wide.  By September 1914, 10,000 sandbags a day were dispatched to the front.  The collecting point in Tring was Hazely, a street in Tring, where Miss Helen Brown and her helpers bundled the sacks for collection.  All costs for this enterprise were met by public subscription.  Every pound raised provided 60 bags.

A poem written by a soldier of 21st Division:

The boys from Halton Park
    There are five and twenty thousand
Bold recruits who have made a start
    To train to fight for their country
In this spacious Halton Park.
    When they are trained and ready
To the front they will embark.
    Then you will hear the people say
There’s the lads from Halton Park
    And when Berlin is taken,
The Kaiser will remark
    “Where did those fearnoughts come from?”
Why, of course, from Halton Park.
    And when we come home victorious,
And each man has made his mark
    Where will the honours go to?
            Why, the lads from Halton Park.

Summer 1915: the district nurse, Miss Girardet, has resigned and is presently nursing at the military hospital on Wandsworth Common.  She has been thanked for her 17 years service to the community.  Miss Green has been appointed in her place.

A cartoonist’s view of the Wandsworth Military Hospital.

“Miss Girardet has been here as a Staff Nurse since October, 1914. She is one of the most capable nurses we have, and is generally loved by all of us for her kindness and goodness to those around her. She was trained at Westminster Hospital and has been District Nursing since.”  Fanny Clara Girardet was later awarded Royal Red Cross Medal for her wartime services.

The 21st Division are now in France and have been in action around Loos/La Bassée.  Halton Camp is now the training facility for the East Anglian area.

Gallipoli has been evacuated.  A combined force of French and British troops, have occupied Salonica and have moved into Thessaly and Macedonia, in support of the retreating Serbian army.  The Kitchener battalions of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry are part of the force.  A number of local men are in these battalions.  The casualty lists are depressingly long.  Almost every family, locally has either lost a relative, or had news of one wounded or taken prisoner.

The production of shells and ammunition is being co-ordinated by the government.  The shortage in 1915 was felt by our armies on the Western Front, and is no doubt the main cause of our failure to progress militarily.

1916: saw the National Service Act coming into operation.  This allowed the direction of the work force as required for the war effort.  Local tribunals were established, which allowed exemption for men with large families, men and women who held essential jobs and men running family businesses and farms.  The pronouncements of the tribunals were not always acceptable, and recourse to an appeal board was often sought.


The shortage of food, due in part to the German submarine warfare is having a serious effect on the population.  The licensing laws were changed, with pubs having restricted opening hours.  These restrictions remain virtually to the present day.

Field Marshal Lord Kitchener (1850-1916)

HMS Hampshire, a cruiser, was sunk north of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on June 5th 1916 [Ed. – Hampshire is believed to have struck a mine laid by the German minelaying submarine U-75. She sank with heavy loss of life].  She had on board, Lord Kitchener and a delegation, which were on their way to Murmansk in Northern Russia to meet the Russian Imperial Command.  Lord Kitcheners body was never found.  However, Able Seaman Stanley Collier, one of the crew, was recovered from the sea and buried in the military cemetery on the island of Hoy.  He was a Tring man and is commemorated on the Tring war memorial.

The Chiltern beech woods were being cut down to provide timber for the trench systems in France.  Three forestry engineer units were at work in the area, one being from Australia.  The consumption of timber was so great at the front that a special port facility was built on the river Seine, at Rouen, solely for the handling of timber.

The meadows in the Vale of Aylesbury were in great demand for the production of fodder for horses, many thousands of which were used for transportation and supply by the Army, at home and in France.

At Paines End, just over the county boundary in Drayton Beauchamp parish, the Royal Engineer (Signals) had established a small unit engaged in radio communications.  They were housed in tents and a portable canvas hut.  The lady in a cottage nearby was asked if she could supply hot water for the soldiers’ ablutions.  She said she would, but that she had no fuel to heat the copper in the outhouse.  The next morning there was a visit from the Bucks policeman from Aston Clinton.  He asked if the family had seen anybody passing with ‘wooding’ trolleys, as a quantity of timber was missing from Pavis Wood.  Later that day the estate policeman came and asked the same question.  Of course, the woman denied having seen anybody passing.  When she next went to the outhouse, she found it was full of logs!

During 1916 the British and Commonwealth armies took over most of the front extending from the Somme River to a point north of Ypres where the remnants of the Belgian Army held the front to the Channel coast.  Preparations were made for a major attack to be made in the area north and south of Albert, which we now know as the Somme offensive.  The battle raged for four months.  During this time many names were added to the Tring Roll of Honour, many men were posted as missing, believed killed.  On March 19th the Church Council discussed the building of a war memorial to commemorate the young men of Tring who gave their lives during the war.  It was suggested that the memorial should take the form of a crucifix, similar to the roadside memorials which are found in France and Belgium.  This would be very familiar to all the soldiers who had served and would be a fitting reminder to the living and memorial to the dead.  It was agreed to commission a design showing Christ crucified on a cross.

War savings groups were being formed.  Street Marshals collected the pennies in exchange for stamps which were affixed to cards.  When full (15/6d) they were exchanged for a certificate worth a pound sterling in five years.  This type of saving continues to the present day in a similar form with the National Savings Bank.

Rationing (1917): food is becoming short due to the German submarine warfare waged against our merchant ships.

The shortage of labour on the land is being circumvented by the formation of a corps of women volunteers known as The Women’s Land Army.  Young women are also being directed into munitions factories.  The naval and military have their own women’s arms, the WRNS and WAC’s.  The women are taking over the duties of motor drivers, cooks, clerks, etc., allowing the release of men to fill the gaps in the fighting services.

Halton is still the Eastern Command Training Depot.  The Royal Flying Corps are moving into the North Camp area.  A flying field has been established, with an Australian squadron flying from it.  The Royal Flying Corps training organisation, concentrated in the new workshops being built by German prisoners of war under the direction of the Royal Engineers, has trained 15,000 Air Mechanics during 1917.

A Handley Page bomber displaying Royal Flying Corps insignia at the
Australian Flying Corps Training Depot, Halton Camp.

On the Western Front, an offensive was started in the Arras area during the early spring.  The German army was pushed back, resulting in the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Army Corps.  Although the high ground was not of a great height, it did hold a commanding view over the Douai plain, with its coal mines and industrial complex towards Lille and the south Belgian bulge.

The Bolshevik revolution, and subsequent peace with Germany, has allowed thousands of German and Austrian troops to be moved westward.  The entry of the United States into the war partly evened up the score, but the Americans were largely untrained in warfare.

In the autumn of 1917 an offensive move in the Ypres area was launched, to break out from the salient.  The objective being a possible capture of the Channel ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge, which were bases for the “U” boats engaged in sea operations in the Western Approaches.

1918: On April 1st the Royal Air Force was born by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.  As aircraft developed, an offensive strategy developed whereby enemy lines of communication were attacked.  Even industrial complexes were attacked in the Ruhr and Saar areas.

A First World War British bomber, the Airco DH. 4.

During the last five months of the War, British aircraft dropped a total of 550 tons of bombs (including 390 tons dropped by night) on German targets for the loss of 109 aircraft.

The German nation was beginning to crack. Lack of food and the casualty lists were causing and demonstrations throughout greater Germany.  Early in 1918 the German High Command launched an offensive westward in the Somme area, pushing back our forces almost to Amiens.

German troops advancing during Ludendorff’s Spring offensive, March 1918.

Germany had the temporary advantage in numbers afforded by nearly 50 divisions freed from the Russian front following Russia’s surrender.

Food shortages and unrest was showing throughout Britain, very similar to Germany.  Socialism was surfacing taking heart from the success of the Russian Revolution.

The Tring war memorial is nearing completion. It is hoped that the unveiling and dedication would be held on St Peter’s day 29th June 1918.  Due to various delays the memorial was unveiled and dedicated on 27th November 1918.

Thanksgiving for Peace on Church Square: 24th July 1919.
The War Memorial is in the background.

The Parish Magazine for April 1918 published a letter from an officer in the Royal Flying Corps in Italy:

The other day I was at --------- aerodrome, it began to snow, so I beetled back here as rapidly as might be.  The snowstorm put up a pretty good fight but we beat it alright.  But we had to go!  Normally I fly at 50-55 miles per hour, to ease the engine, but I saw now that I should get a move on.  So I started at 70 mph, and for the first 10 miles kept level with the storm, which was about a mile away.  I could see quite clearly up to the south but then it looked like a thick white mist.  I said to myself ‘My child, carry on at 80 mph’.  But even at this pace the snowstorm gained on us slightly.  In the end we beat it by four fields.  I have been caught too many times by rain and muck to take any chances by going slowly.  These jiggers will do 105 mph near the ground and I was flying at only 800 feet.  It was quite amusing and my engine was priceless.

I went up for a joy ride the other day to try the electric heating, which I think I told you about.  There is a 250 volt dynamo on the machine driven by a small propeller 18" across, and a switch box containing about eight switches.  Three of these are for body, hands and feet.  For your body, you put on under your tunic, a wash-leather waistcoat, which has resistance wires all over it.  For your hands you have thin cotton gloves, with wires down the back of each finger.  For your feet you have socks - the sort you put in your boots when they are too big - these also have resistance wires in them.

The other switches are: (1) for heating the guns to keep them from freezing; (2) to power the klaxon horn used for contact while flying; (3) for navigation lights, which are on the wing tips and also behind the observer, and underneath the machine. (these are to show who and where you are in night flying), (and also to prevent being run into); (4) for charging accumulators for wireless; and (5) for Holt landing flares under each wing for night landing, and are fired by a hot wire.

When I got up I turned on the three body switches and everything worked gorgeously.  In fact, I had to turn the hands switch off after a bit as they got too hot.

Letter from a Royal Engineer (Signals) officer April 3rd 1918:

At last!  After twelve of the most strenuous and exciting days I have ever known, the remnants of us are safely out for a bit of green field, able to sleep.  Ever since the fight began we have been at it all day and all night - fighting, marching, retreating, counter-attacking, etc., etc.

Out of the twelve nights of the fight I was four nights without a wink of sleep and have certainly not averaged three hours sleep out of the rest of the twelve days.  Never had boots off, except once to wash my feet; shaved about three times; washed hands and face about every other day; and with it all have been wonderfully and marvellously fit - huge appetite and perfect digestion, walked and ridden countless miles without fatigue or soreness; and come right through it without a scratch.  A most wonderful experience!

Yesterday we came out of the fight battered and dirty but still cheerful.  I ended up by an all-night march of 24 miles, so tired and sleepy that I could not remain on my horse, but had to walk to keep awake, after which I slept all morning, most of the afternoon, and all night, and could still do with more.

The Signal Company has been pretty fortunate on the whole in the way of casualties, one officer killed and some valuable NCOs, but very few men and only three horses.

When we are refitted we will, I suppose enter the fight with renewed vigour.  The end is not yet, and though the Hun has won the first act, it does not follow that he has won the rubber.  Our post has been held up from the start but I have received it all together yesterday.

Bucks Herald, June 1918.  Herts Recruiting Campaign for Women on the Land:

A recruiting rally for women on the land will be held in Tring on Saturday, June 8th.  A procession of land army girls and part time workers from Tring and surrounding villages, decorated wagons, etc, will start from the ‘Britannia’ at 6 p.m. and march through the town to the market place, where a short open air meeting will be held.

A letter thought to be from Lieutenant Kesley, published in the Parish Magazine, June 1918:

“I have been moved from camels to donkeys; the Corps is under the same administration as camels, and is newly formed, so of course it has to be officered, and I have been selected as one of them and posted to No 1.  It is really a big scream.  I wish you could hear the noise at feeding time.  I have 500 of them, and it is a regular Donnybrook!  Of course, I am no longer on the coastal sector and probably, shall have a chance of getting to Jerusalem, which is about 25 miles distant, but the country is about the worst I have ever struck.  It is very mountainous with hardly any cultivation, and the mountains are covered with huge boulders of rock, and only donkeys can get about on them, with the exception of goats.  But they are not forming a goat corps yet!  We seem to be away from the world up here, away in the hills.  Everything is very quiet except for the hum of an aeroplane; it seems almost living a hermits life.

Later: At last I have seen Jerusalem.  Just before entering the city, Nebi Sainwil, the traditional tomb of the prophet Samuel, is clearly visible from the road.  This where some of the stiffest fighting took place, and one cannot understand how our boys overcame such strong positions; it was superhuman.  I took a guide to the Holy Sepulchre; there I saw our Lord’s tomb.  The church, which is built over it, is very beautiful inside.  I cannot say what passed through my mind as I stood by the side of his tomb, but everything seemed to be at peace.  I also saw the mosque of Omar, the Jews
waiting place, and the garden of Gethsemane.  It is hard to realise what happened here.

June 1918: Letter from Guy Beech, Chaplain to the Forces, former curate at Tring.

With a Middlesex Regiment Battalion B.E.F., May 3rd 1918.

“As the address shows you, I am now attached to the ‘Diehards’.  My last letter was written just before I left the reinforcement camp to join the Division.  Eventually I reached it close to the town I had left the week before I was posted to this battalion whose padre had been killed in the recent fighting.  But how long I shall be with it is uncertain, as it seems likely to be broken up, which will mean my being transferred to some entirely different unit.  Most of the men have been drafted away, and their place may possibly be taken by Americans.  We have been perpetually on the move from one village to another in back areas, quite a long way from the fighting line.  We are billeted in first one, and then another French house; usually a farmhouse built four square like an Oxford college quad, and usually with a refuse heap in the centre!

In the last village my bedroom overlooked a pretty little valley with an aerodrome on the opposite hill and on clear evenings I used to watch the aeroplanes come out one after the other from their hangars, like wasps from a nest, and go off in formation, laden with bombs for the enemy territory.  Here in another farmhouse, I am roused at by the old French peasant starting forth with his plough and horses for the fields.  The French are indeed wedded to the soil.  Everywhere you see them working on the land, the women and old men, and there they are from sunrise to sunset every day.  Doubtless it is one great reason of the strength of France, and one can’t help wishing we English people loved the soil as they do.

We are under orders to move again tomorrow and have a seventeen mile march before us.”


An Economic View, published in mid 1918: IT CANNOT LAST.

Through one means or another many people are earning large wages.  Hundreds of firms are paying excess profits tax.  And many workers outside the big industrial world are receiving salaries and wages, which, for purely war reasons cannot last.  Thousands are earning comparatively good pay, which they will take as a matter of course until ‘their services are no longer required’.  What is to be the future of these?

There are two distinct types of worker: first, the organised wage earner; second the new worker in office situations.  The first section, though quite aware that the war (and war prices also) are liable to fall when peace comes, will look to the State to prevent the dislocation and unemployment that have followed previous wars.  But a guarantee against actual want does not mean continued prosperity.  Even when a minimum wage is the rule it will be far less than the present maximum.  The second section is in a position quite undefined.  To both the National War Savings Committee offer sound advice when they say, ‘Save while you can and buy War Savings Certificates’.

Let us grant that the State would not allow wholesale disorganisation and unemployment.  But let us remember that the State, like the individual, depends on trade.  It is impossible to guarantee high wages, for the so called ‘good times’ of war depend on artificial causes.  It is to be hoped that new trades and fresh energy will flourish and abound.  But behind such hopes lies the plain fact that the men and women with £10, £50, or £100 in hand will be saved an anxiety.  For no state exists that can restore to its citizens what has been lost or wasted, or create wealth out of thin air.

It is not necessary to buy certificates one by one.  £1 certificates are issued in book form; or twelve may be bought at one time (on one certificate) for £9-6-0 and £25 certificates cost £19-17-6 each.  If you have any odd sum, you can put it all into certificates in exchange for one document and you can withdraw part of the money at any time if you need it.  A small reserve fund may make all the difference some day, between having to jump at the first job that comes your way, and being able to wait until you can secure congenial occupation.  The certificates you buy today may mark the turning point of your career.

Education: the Rev. Basil J. Reay, Diocesan Inspector of Schools, paid visits to each of our schools during July and has sent us most encouraging reports.  From these we make the following extracts, which speak for themselves:

“The school is in excellent hands, and the scholars are being taught to think for themselves, with very good results.  I was particularly pleased with the way in which the bible narrative was known, and with the clear evidence of the application of the moral and practical lessons to the lives of the scholars.  The tone throughout the school was excellent”.

“This was an excellent school in which the scholars are being very fully taught and where, not only is the knowledge imparted, but the children are being encouraged to think.  The staff are to be much congratulated on the result of their care and instruction.  An excellent tone was apparent, and the keenness and bright answering of the children was delightful”.

“The children have received careful and sympathetic teaching for which they made, on the whole, an adequate return.  Good work has been done, and many of the children answered in an intelligent manner.  The tone and reverence was pleasing”.

“There was evidence in this school of careful teaching, and keen interest on the part of the children; and in both classes, the answering was bright and general”.

We are sure that all our readers who have a care for the well being of the rising generation, will read these remarks with real pleasure, and will congratulate those who have made it possible for the inspector to make them.

August School Honours:

Boys: Kenneth H. Desborough has obtained one of two open minor scholarships at Berkhamsted School.  Francis Mildred has won a County naval scholarship.  John Lines, who passed the written part of the examination, was disqualified due to defective eyesight.
Girls: Nora Lines has been elected to a free place scholarship at Berkhamsted High School.

Our congratulations to teachers and scholars alike.

September 1918. The War Memorial: the total sum as estimated for the erection of a war memorial: £450-0-0 has now been received from public subscription.  The cost of the wrought iron gates is considerably more than first estimated, and it is expected that more costs will be incurred, so contributions are still needed to offset unforeseen costs.

Christmas and Tring men at the Front: the vicar called a representative meeting of the inhabitants of Tring, at which it was decided to send all of our men in the Royal Navy, Mercantile Marine, Army and Royal Air Force, and those in hospitals will be sent a postal order to the value of 5/-.  A parcel, or money where it is safe to send it, to the value of 10/-, will be sent to our prisoners of war in enemy hands.  Collections for this enterprise, and names of entitled to receive this gift.

November 1918: on 11th November an armistice was signed, to cease hostilities at 11.00 a.m. on that day.  There was great rejoicing throughout Great Britain.

An excerpt from the war diary of Mrs Ethel M. Bilborough, of Chiselhurst, Kent: November 11 1918:

I was trying to write a coherent letter this morning when all of a sudden the air was rent by a tremendous bang!  My instant thought was a raid! But when another explosion shook the windows and the hooters at Woolwich began to scream like things demented, and the guns started frantically firing all round us like a mighty fugue!  I knew this was no raid, but the signing of the armistice had been accomplished!  Signal upon signal took up the news; the glorious pulverising news - that the end had come at last, and the greatest war in history was over.

General Robertson presiding at the Tring War Memorial unveiling ceremony
(Robertson remains the only British soldier to progress from the rank of Private to that of Field Marshall).

The unveiling and dedication of the Tring war memorial was performed on Wednesday November 27th 1918 on the Church Square at 3.30 p.m. by General Sir William Robertson GCB, KCVO, DSO (General Officer Commanding in Chief, Great Britain), who gave the address.  The memorial was then dedicated by the Very Reverend T C Fry DD, Dean of Lincoln.

The Treaty of Versailles Ends World War I, but German resentment over harsh peace
terms leads to a rise in nationalist sentiment and the eventual rise to power of Adolf Hitler.
In this painting is by the Irish artist William Orpen, President Woodrow Wilson (United States - holding papers),
 and Prime Ministers Georges Clemenceau (France) and David Lloyd George (Great Britain), are seated centre.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 18th June 1919 so ending the Great War.  A national day of rejoicing was set for 19th July.  However this date was brought forward to Sunday 6th July.  This, of course, caused some confusion, however all went well on the day.  The festivities started with a short service on the Church Square at 11 a.m. followed by festivities in the park.

A good time was had by all.


Written by Bob Grace, Tring Councillor.

In the local paper in December 1894 there appeared a tribute to the Local Board of Health written by Mr J. T. Clement:

“Farewell old Local Board, farewell
     Thy end is drawing near
 But ere the fatal moment comes
     Hear thee a word of cheer”

The writer goes on to give a factual but light-hearted account of the work done by this forerunner of the T.U.D.C. [Tring Urban District Council]  In this very short note on 79 years of Local government, I have tried to follow Mr Clement’s lead, alas not in verse.

Frederick Butcher (1827-1919).

The first [Tring Urban District] Election in December 1894 had been well contested and Mr Stevens, Boot and Shoe Maker, topped the poll, he being a very respected townsman, always available to help with your problems, and a Baptist lay preacher of note.  At the first Meeting (3.1.95), Frederick Butcher, local Banker of Frogmore, member of H.C.C. [Hertfordshire County Council] was made Chairman.  The Hon Walter Rothschild (later 2nd Lord), M.P., was also a member.  Glancing through reports, no doubt these great bankers gave their careful consideration to the Granting of a Pawnbroker’s Licence to Mr Seabrook and that Mr Attwell of the Red Lion could hold a Lodging House Licences for his 1/- a night boarders; the first Rate of 2/6 in the £ brought trade to Mr Seabrook.

Under Mr Butcher’s Chairmanship and the guidance of Mr A. W. Vaisey as Clerk (salary £125.0.0d per annum) the monthly meetings were referred to as a “Duet with Occasional Chorus”.  Health was and still should be the prime duty of Local Government.  At this period Scarlet Fever and Diptheria epidemics were rife and the building of the Little Tring Hospital was an enormous boon to the Town.  In 1902 Smallpox was endemic and patients were housed in a tent at Aldbury – to quote Mr Clement:

“But human faces marred and scarred,
     Eyes darkened, long have been
 Things of the past, for rare now
     Such saddening sights are seen.”

This plague was still with us.  By May 1903 the Matron of the new Hospital felt that after eighteen months’ work she might ask for three weeks holiday, which was promptly refused, but she might take 14 days on the understanding that she returned if a patient was admitted.

The Station Road, which had had ruts three feet deep, had now been surfaced with flint, with the aid of a steam roller.  The Landlord of the Robin Hood was sent a bill and strong letter for having managed by diplomatic means to get the roller to rolls his yard without the surveyor’s knowledge!  The Council felt that the Station bus should now be able to meet the trains and as it was failing to do so, consideration to a take-over almost succeeded.

The New Market House, High Street, Tring,
by A. Hedges (1901).


Bucks Herald, 24th June 1916

Meetings were held in the market house in the room which had been designed as the Market Hall and Corn Exchange.  Members complained of cold feet and in 1910 the ground floor was enclosed at a cost of £90.0.0d.  Heat was, however, generated when the Surveyor, who had to cover the 25 miles of district roads, asked for £5 per year bicycle allowance, which was allowed by a small majority, but the request for a telephone at £5 per year with all local calls free was immediately refused.  Refuse collection was late and uncertain and was only able to continue when Cllr. Rothschild used his good offices to get permission for the ash carts to tip [refuse] into the disused canal at Little Tring.  Traffic through the Town now came in for attention and 1911 saw a request for a Motor Speed Limit.  This was eventually granted from Langdon Street to the Rose and Crown.  At this time it was possible to buy milk at 11 dairies and milk shops; bread from 12 bake houses; meet from 7 slaughterhouses, and to work in 26 factory premises.  616 children were at school.  Death rate 15.3 per 1000 – Birth rate 18 per 1,000 – BUT death of infants under 1 year, 61 to 1,000 births!  If since 1912 the Council has helped to bring this figure to Nil in 1972-73, it has justified its existence.

The 1914-18 War did not miss Tring.  Rate relief was allowed for houses given over to Belgian refugees and its hospital, schools and hall became Tring Military Hospital, which in 1915 was receiving patients from the Dardanelles.  The writer would have voted in support of a request from the School Managers for “Better heating at Church House and Market House, now used for the school”, for during the last winter the temperature did not exceed 40ºF on many days (I remember trying to sit as near under a gas light as possible with my overcoat on).  Council, however, became very heated and passed a resolution that “All aliens be imprisoned or deported” – this was in bad taste to say the least, considering the position of the Rothschilds and their employees, many of whom came under this heading and in many cases were fighting in the Allied Forces.  Lord Rothschild and the chairman of 16 years standing, Mr Richardson Carr, resigned immediately!  On the reverse face, however, a move to mark the award of the V.C. to Edward Barber was voted “No Action”.

The Rev. Charles Pearce.

The next Chairman, Pastor Charles Pearce, spent weeks visiting as many wounded Tring men in hospital as possible and the Council agreed to tend the graves of the fourteen soldiers who died locally and are buried in our Cemetery.

The price and scarcity of meat caused public concern and the Council set up a Food Control Committee.  They tried without success to stop animals sold in Tring Cattle Market leaving the town; they also failed to stop Council workmen leaving to work at Halton Camp for 10d. per hour!  The Armistice was greeted with the public demand via Sir Steven Collins, M.P. for a ‘War Trophy’.  This arrived in the shape of a very old German Gun, which appeared never to have been able to fire.  From its place of honour in the Market Place it was moved to Miswell Lane Recreation Ground from where it was quietly sold for scrap metal!  The further gift of an ex-service ambulance was refused owing to the cost of a garage and insurance.

Private Edward Barber (1893-1915) V.C.

1918 brought the great Influenza Epidemic and Health properly took precedence over business.  The surveyor was instructed to get the ventilation improved in the Empire Picture Palace, Akeman Street.  Prices came under examination and seven members formed a Profiteering Committee.  There is no report of anything being done at a stroke, but as is usual a Coal Strike followed and all the gas street lights were extinguished.  Two lamp-lighters were part-time employees and it was decided not to pay them even half wages for the strike period.

A report that boys were playing football in Miswell Lane Recreation Ground on Sundays was passed to the Police to stop it.  They refused to take any action.  It was then forwarded to the Ministry, who in those days could give a definite answer in return, which again was No!  Further complaints from Miswell Lane concerned an industrial site, where sausage skins were processed – this time the complaint was smell rather than noise!

By the mid-twenties leisure appeared on the agenda and the need for a swimming pool was noted.  Next the Education Committee added their pleas for it and within ten years a Swimming Pool Committee was set up.  The first application to set up the County Library in Tring was turned down “As against the interests of shopkeepers”.  However this was reversed at the next meeting and, to rub the result in, the books arrived on a Sunday!  The library had to be run entirely voluntarily and a payment of £2 paid by the Council was overruled by the Ministry and had to be found by public subscriptions.  By 1928, 648 people were on the list and 473 books were permanent.  In 1932 it was allowed to pay a Librarian £13 per year on the condition that it opened two nights per week, the approximate lendings being 250 per week.  In 1936 the books were turned out of Market House to the Junior School in the High Street.  In January, 1937, Mr. Thomas Grace was appointed the Chairman of the Library Committee, a post he held until its last meeting, with at least one other member who has been on the Committee becoming the Council’s longest serving Committee Chairman.

Photo courtesy of Mike Bass.

Besides being a long-serving town councillor and a well known local historian,
Bob Grace (author of this account) was famous in the locality for his lantern slide shows.

In 1928 the Health of the town was again to the fore.  The Surveyor reported over 70 cases of overcrowding and, to the M.O.H [Ministry of Health], that 34 houses were unfit, some of which had been condemned in 1914 (one or two remain today).  Many children from these homes who attended the Council School were suffering from T.B. [tuberculosis] and Ricketts.  He reported that the tenants of these houses could not afford more that 3/- to 5/- a week rent inclusive.  The Council, who were refused Ministry help, could not rehouse these people and a voluntary scheme was set up at New Road, the houses being built by a public appeal headed by Chairman John Bly.  One man without a home found to be living on his council allotment was ejected as a trespasser.  With all his extra Health work the Surveyor asked to have a typewriter, which was firmly refused, as was the public’s request to be able to pay for the newly laid-on electricity in the Town.  It was, however easy to reach Aylesbury to pay; Premier buses ran every half hour, Viking express coaches at the hours, Chiltern buses if required.

The Council received complaints that people were shopping out of Tring and tried to get the licences of the buses reduced, but by 1934 the L.P.T.B. [London Passenger Transport Board] cut all services to one per hour and did not connect with the trains.  Only after many meetings was some improvement made. It was, however, possible still to use the Canal.  76 boats were Tring registered, eleven being motor.  Road traffic was causing concern and in October 1932 the County Surveyor was asked to improve Cow Lane to the London Road junction, and two months later to consider traffic lights at the Akeman Street/Frogmore Street corner.  By 1935 the Council was refusing a pedestrian crossing in High Street, and the Road Safety Committee placed their resignation en block in the hand of the Council to try to get the crossing, which did not come until some thirty years later!  Town Planning was not a council power in 1933 but it was agreed to do all they could to oppose the setting up of a Motor Race Track at Folly Farm on land which, when this was refused, was bought to set up the Cement Works.  It was refused to signpost field paths but it did, however, under pressure from the Surveyor, draw up a map of all the known rights of way!

In 1937 a joint Planning Committee with Berkhamsted U.D.C. and R.D.C drew up a Town Plan and recommended an industrial area between the Station and New Ground.  Green belt areas were agreed and the purchase of the Woodlands pressed forward by Chairman Donald Brown M.C.  He had the difficult task to prepare for War.  An A.R.P. Committee was formed, and First Aid etc., was instructed by Cllr. Kettle, at first with little support, but the report to the Council, October 1938, that Air Raid Trenches had been dug at Miswell Lane, Dundale Road, near the Brittania, High Street and the School, brought the threat home and work really started.

With the arrival of evacuees requiring another Committee, which was most unpopular, and in September 1940 the first bomb brought War to Tring!  When Victory came, the Clerk reported 1,152 Red Warnings, 15 incidents, 36 High Explosives, 2 Land Mines, 1 Oil Bomb and a number of incendiaries, 162 houses damaged, no-one killed or injured, although the incidents included air crashes in which Service personnel died.  V.E. day had been celebrated by street parties but proposals to welcome home members of the Forces failed to get enough support, except to send most a pocket wallet.

However, a new Committee of Townspeople was forming, that of the Ratepayers Association (now Residents) and at the next Council Election they won all the seats.  From this date, a study of the Minutes of your Association gives a picture of Council proceedings in which the writer has pledged some part and I will not comment further.

To again mis-quote Mr Clement:

“So cheer up then thou U.D.C.
     As now they labours cease
     May you now rest in peace!
 Tring then in future years may be
     A place of just renown
 By ‘Dacorum’ wisely ruled,
     An Almost Model Town!”

R. G. Grace.


This piece (author unknown) appears to have been written in the 1970s.

Tring Fire Brigade posing with their horse-drawn fire engine, which remained
in use for almost two hundred years before being replaced in the 1930s.

Spare a thought for the apparently impatient driver behind you next time you are in a queue of cars in Tring High Street.  Don’t discount him as another menace soon to be removed by the opening of the by-pass [opened 1973].  He could be one of Tring’s vital citizens and one day you may be thankful that no queue of traffic impedes his journey.

Why?  Well he could be driving Tring’s fire engine.  Tring Fire Station is manned by thirteen able-bodied part-time officers, three of whom live and work in Tring and are thus on permanent standby.  A fire alarm these days is not sounded by the old -fashioned siren.  Electronic wizardry provides each fireman with a personal alerter which operates within a five mile radius.  These have been available for three years and although more expensive are much appreciated by the neighbours of the siren tower.  A radio signal from Divisional Headquarters triggers a device at Tring Fire Station.  This transmits another radio beam which when received by the alerters causes them to emit a buzzing alarm.  It is then down tools and off to the fire station with grateful thanks for an understanding employer.

The Brigade with Tring’s first motor fire engine.  It was so under-powered
it could not climb the hill to Wigginton.

The staff of the station – in official jargon it is a Retained Station – come from various walks of live.  The occupations they hold include a painter and decorator, printer, farm worker, factory foreman, electricity board worker and security officer.  They are led by a Sub-Officer Gosling, and to help him in his work he has two leading firemen and ten firemen. This band of volunteers cover a wide area round Tring, including Wigginton, Pitstone, Hastoe, Cholesbury and Aldbury.  During the day only three men work within range of the alerters, but at night all thirteen can be raised by this system.  It is the first seven at the station who go out on call, six to man the fire engine and one to remain on watch at the station; not surprisingly this latter job is the less-favoured of the jobs.  These men enjoy the thrill of not knowing what they might be going to deal with when an alarm comes.  The type of call can range from a simple chimney fire, involving no mess with modern equipment; to pulling a donkey out of the canal.  The firemen can cope with all types of calamities including flooding, grass fires, motor accidents and even light aircraft crashes.  The fire engine, or pump, is modern, with a 400 gallon tank of water and a 35 foot extension ladder.  It also carries breathing apparatus, equipment to deal with chemical spillages from lorries winches and of course a two-way radio.

Tring Fire Station had at least one hundred calls a year, with happily few false alarms.  The men are proud of their record of a four minute turnout to any call, and that includes travelling from home to the station.  If you have volunteered to be woken at anytime of night after a hard day’s work, with the knowledge that you have to be in the next day at work after a call, you would expect some financial recompense.  Payment these men get, but hardly worthy of the task they perform is £1.95 per turnout for the first hour, which after tax deductions, and if a daytime call-out also loss of working hours which have to be made up, leaves a fireman with little compensation for his trouble.  But it is just such dedicated men who provide you with the security of help when you dial the triple nine.

Tring Fire Brigade with their new Leyland fire engine outside the Silk Mill (c.1930s).



The first fourteen years of F.J.B

From the local broadsheet or weekly newspapers a notice - “On the First of December in the Year of Our Lord 1904, Letitia Bly of 22 High Street, Tring was safely delivered of a male child.  No doubt this was further repeated at the Baptist Chapel on the following Sunday where Letitia and John were members, if not from the Pulpit then certainly from mouth to mouth that “Lettie Bly had a boy.  After a short interval a visit was paid to the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, and there recorded that one Frank John Bly, son of John and Letitia Bly, was born on 1.12.1904.

I really remember nothing of the first five years of my life - not in any real detail - but this I do remember, in 1909 a running battle started between my dear parents and myself that was to last for nine long years - I was taken to school.

My first kindergarten was with a lot of other boys and girls whom I rather liked - or wanted to like - under the tuition of two rather dear - and to me very old - ladies, the Misses Francis and Daisy Collins at Elm House, Tring.

According to the financial means of the parents, education in Tring in my young days meant that boys went either to the National School (Church of England plus County Council Aid), the Tring Commercial School (a private establishment run by Mr Walter Edward Wright) at White House Tring, or to Berkhamsted Grammar School.  My father chose the middle course, so off I went to Tring Commercial School.  It soon became quite apparent to everyone that I should never win a scholarship to the Grammar School, so I remained under the care of Mr Wright until reaching the age of fourteen.  I have no complaint about Mr Wright.  He tried, and so did I, but we were parallel lines; our ideas just didn’t meet.  There were so many things I wanted to do in my fathers workshop, the horse to be groomed, the motor to be cleaned, anything rather than books.  But less than a month after leaving school I knew I had been wrong.  Study I must, and study I did, and its taken possibly all my life to make up for lost time.  But my boyhood days were wonderful.  In my father’s workshop - a building about 200 yards from the shop - were Mr Good, upholsterer and polisher; Mr West, cabinet maker; Williams Bradding, a young man doing all the odd jobs; and Lew Crockett, the groom and general do-it-all.

Mr Good always said I was a “tiresome, interfering and meddlesome child” (his favourite expression was “don’t meddle boy”).  As an upholsterer he always took a handful of tacks and while working held them in his mouth.  I found a few drops of paraffin dropped in his tack tin cause him some slight discomfort, which helped me put up with his meddlesome ways.  But I learned a lot from Mr Good.  He was a man of great patience and long before I left school he had taught me to straw web a chair seat and hand stitch a hair stuffed ‘roll edge’ on a Georgian stuff-over chair – but I never did put the tacks in my mouth, just in case!

Mr West always had all the tools I loved to use and from him I learned at a very young age how to use them – I’ve still got scars on my hands where the chisels slipped to prove it!  But again, before I left school, I had learned to know one piece of mahogany from another; French walnut from English; how to iron down veneer and cut bandings; and cut and shade in hot sand oval shell inlay.  Maybe I was wrong, but to me time spent learning in the workshop was better than sitting at a school desk.

Frank Bly

William Bradding, being younger, joined in everything.  Our workshop was heated by an old iron circular ‘Tortoise’ stove, its pipe going through the wall into the fireplace and chimney of the next showroom.  One late winter evening, Mr Good and Mr West having gone home, the stove fire had gone out.  To restart it we poured some paraffin on to the hot coke.  This didn’t flame but must have turned into gas because when we put a match to it, it went with a terrific roar.  The stove didn’t move, but a large wardrobe in the next showroom did, and the hole in the ceiling where the chimney stack came through the roof left no-one within a quarter of a mile in doubt that something had happened.  Father soon arrived and it was our first ‘black and white’ show – I was black with soot and father was white with worry and rage, although he was relieved to find us both alive.  All was forgiven, except for suitable punishment.

I’ll come to Mr Crockett later, but the only one in the workshop, or anywhere else for that matter, was my father.  He could do everything.  To me he was ‘all things to all men’ apart from being a master craftsman in the workshop, a keen student of many subjects, a fine judge of English Furniture, an outstanding dealer, a great teacher and, above all, a wonderful father.  He could make the best rabbit hutches, pigeon cotes, railway stations, build the best boats and chests for birds eggs.

To my father and mother I was always known as “the boy”.  I can never remember hearing my father swear, but whenever - and it must have been on hundreds of occasions when I did wrong, or annoyed him - he said “drat the boy”, into the word “drat” he could get more feeling, more expression and wrath than any other word I have ever heard.  If it was in the morning, then one “drat” would cower me for the day.  But father practiced what he preached; “let not the sun go down upon your wrath”, and we always made sure of saying “good-night”, so that when I woke and my pigeons were at the bedroom window it was another day to explore, another day to do things in and (apart from school!) another day to be enjoyed to the full.

My father was one of the founders and secretary of the Tring Y.M.C.A.  He raised money with a lot of help from tradesmen and local gentry, and equipped a fine gymnasium in what was at one time a chapel known as the Tabernacle.  Gymnastic displays were given to raise funds for needy causes and there are some photos that show the last display in the Cricket Field just before the Great War.  As well as the mens and boys teams there was a ladies team organised by Miss Gwen Knight, and one photo shows a display with my sister Doris on the left-hand side.

Tring Y.M.C.A. gymnastics display team (date unknown).

Up to about the year 1913 my father had a beautiful grey mare, Dolly Grey, who used to pull the four-wheel open furniture van.  She was Lew Crockett’s pride and joy.  Her coat was groomed until it shone, her harness was a picture, and when she went to be shod Lew would put a blanket and halter on her, put me on her back, and off I went at 7 in the morning to Mr. Stratford the blacksmith.  Dolly Grey knew her way.

Mr. Stratford always made tea in a big enamel jug.  He threw the tea into the water, put it on the forge fire, blew the bellows until the sparks flew and mash the tea.  He then poured the milk and sugar into the jug and out came tea the like of which I haven’t tasted since 1913, mainly, I think, because the jug was only washed out when it wouldn’t hold any more tea leaves!

My father bought Dolly Grey from Squire Jenny of Drayton Manor.  She never looked happy when she was in the van delivering or collecting furniture being driven by Lew Crockett with William Brackley.  I am quite sure she felt it beneath her dignity.  We also had a high, two wheel cart that father drove when out making his calls, viewing auction sales or attending Aylesbury market every Saturday when we always ‘shut out’ and stabled at the Chandos Arms livery stables and public house.  As soon as Dolly was harnessed into the cart she looked completely different.  To see her trot was a picture, head in the air, a proud and beautiful creature.  One day when father and I were going to Berkhamsted down the long hill known locally as Pendley Beeches, when Dolly stumbled and went down in a heap on the road.  Father and I were both thrown out of the cart.  I was of course crying my eyes out with fright, but father quickly picked me up and sat me on Dollys head which, as any horseman knows, is the only way to make a fallen horse lay quiet.  He then undid the harness, dragged the cart back so she was clear of the shafts, pulled me off her head and up stood Dolly Grey, trembling as only a hurt and frightened horse can.  Her poor knees were cut and bleeding and I can still see my father tearing up his shirt to bandage those cuts.  We all walked back to Tring.  Neither of us ever got over that incident and father never drove Dolly again.  She had to be taken to Mr Seaton’s livery stables at Aylesbury where I am sure father sent her because he wouldn’t have her put down in our own yard.  Lew Crockett had to take her.  I saw her go but my father didn’t, for he loved that grey mare.  The cart and van were sold except for the two solid wooden boards that ran along the side of the van, which were written in gold letters ‘John Bly, Antique Dealer, High Street, Tring’.  These were taken off and afterwards used on every van for many years, but eventually our Austin van was stolen in Watford.  The first thing the thieves did was to rip off the name boards and smash them – we got the van back but not the boards.  I would rather have had the boards, the van I could have replaced.

During the three years 1913 to 1916, so much happened.  The saddest of these years for father, mother and myself was 1916.  I had no brothers and only one sister, Doris Rose Bly.  Doris was nine years older than I, which meant that for twelve years when I was in any real trouble Doris was there, guide, comforter, friend and wonderful sister.  Then Doris died from an illness that modern medicine will cure, but in 1916 pneumonia was so often fatal.  Even after fifty-four years there is still no need for me to look at the old photography album to remember her.  She was such a pretty girl, slim built, a talented musician on piano and organ.  She played the organs at two local Nonconformist Chapels, both having manually operated bellows.  When she practiced I used to go along to blow the organ – often, I regret to say, under pressure.  Then within a few weeks of her twenty-first birthday the end came, and although my mother lived to be nearly ninety she never really recovered from losing her Doris.

Doris was engaged to be married to a Tring boy, Archibald Bishop, who, like most of the boys of that age group was in the Army.  He had been severely wounded in France and brought back to a hospital near Manchester where Doris had been to visit him a few months before her death.

Tring was still very much a Rothschild town (of which more later), but when anyone was seriously ill straw was always laid for about a hundred yards all over the main road to deaden the traffic noise, for all the horse-drawn heavy carts and vans had iron tyres and ‘strawing’ was quite a custom to the time.   The Great War was on, so the heavy army gun-carriages and transports made such a noise that Lady Rothschild had some of the older men who were still left on the “Home Farm” bring down fresh straw every day throughout Doris’s illness.  Just another thing I shall always remember the Rothschild family for, and I think that was the last time straw was laid in the High Street.

John Bly’s father’s antique shop is on the right of the picture, next to the Tring Bank (Thomas Butcher & Sons).
The shop was pulled down in 1911 and later became the site of the Midland Bank.

My fathers shop was one of the oldest buildings in the High Street and we all lived above and behind it.  One bedroom was built over a gateway leading to the yard at the back, and also to the garden and coach house of the adjoining property, which was the surgery and home of our local doctor.  In 1911 my fathers landlord suddenly decided to pull down the old shop together with that next door and rebuild.  This put father into difficulty, but fortunately the Old Brewery House with its yard and garden was empty and only about three doors away, so into it we moved while the rebuilding took place.  This for me was wonderful; a big house, all the old brewery buildings to explore and an immense garden, room for rabbits, pigeons and, in fact, all creatures great and small.

1911 was a very hot summer.  On the day of the great Agricultural Show in Tring Park, while we were all at the show a terrible thunderstorm broke and a man was struck by lightning and killed, which to me was awful and very frightening. The Show was run under the very active support and Presidency of Lord Rothschild.  It was always held on the first Thursday after August Bank Holiday and was known as the greatest one day show in the country.

In 1913 a wonderful thing happened. After losing Dolly Grey father didn’t buy another horse, but instead he bought a second-hand four-seater open Humber car, two years old.  Wm. Wright, the local coach builder, took off the body and replaced it with a new open van body nearly like the old horse van.  It was beautifully painted, with all the panels and spokes of the wooden wheels finely lined and varnished, and on went the old walnut and gold name of John Bly.  To me and old Lew Crockett this new motor was a great joy.  He would never go home at night – regardless of what time my father returned – until he had washed the tyres with a wisp of straw just as he always did with the horse’s hoofs, singing in a musical hissing breath as only a good old groom could.  But Lew really worked on that motor.  All the brass shone, the big oil lamps always trimmed and that van, which was one of the first motor vans in Tring, looked a picture.

That Humber was a fine piece of engineering.  Ignition was a magneto with open chain drive, but as this made starting – by hand of course – difficult.  A coil and accumulator were fitted, so one started on the accumulator and after the engine was running switched to the magneto.  This switch was marked ‘M’ and ‘A’ (magneto-accumulator) – my father told me when I asked what these letters stood for, Mestophalese and Appolion.  The clutch was a cone shape type with pads of thick leather so when one needed a new clutch lining it was the saddle and harness maker who had to do it.  The leather was usually socked in neatsfoot oil [Note] to keep it soft and smooth in action, but with a heavy load of furniture on the van the clutch slipped on every hill, so father had a better idea.  When he came to a steep hill out came the floor boards in front of the driving seat.  A plank of wood (cut to the exact length and kept for the purposes) was wedged to keep the clutch pedal down, then, with a long palette knife, Fullers Earth powder was shaken on the leather.  The wedge was then removed and, with a terrific jerk, we sailed up the hill.   The only trouble was at the top of the hill we had to stop and repeat the process, except this time the Fullers Earth had to be washed out with paraffin from a brass syringe.  All this was caused simply because my father had a van body big enough for a half a tone of furniture and two men on a motor that was only designed to carry four people!

Our coach house and workshop at that time opened out on to a semi-private road which only ran about 200 yards from the High Street to the west door of the church.  Whenever the van stood in this little road, William Brackley, who soon learned to drive, would start it for me and I used to drive backward and forward.  There was no room to turn, but going forward the road was long enough to change gear twice, then reverse all the way back and start again.  These were the only driving lessons I ever had.

All good things have to come to an end and one sad day in 1915 this van was commandeered by the military and away it went to war, less the walnut name boards, which really takes me back to 1914 and the outbreak of the Great War.  The first act which impressed me about the coming war was the day in August of the Agricultural Show and seeing all the horses of every sort, size and breed, from the fine pedigree Shire horses to the horse the farmer used to bring his family to the show.  They were all numbered and catalogued ready for war, because the start of the Great War was really a horse-war as far as transport was concerned.  The second impression was seeing Army Officers, each with a policeman, divide the town into sections, visit every house, count the rooms, count the family, then come out and chalk on the wall of the house or cottage a sign K/4, then below it one, two, three or any number.  This meant “Kitcheners fourth Army”, with one man to be billeted in this house, or two, etc., for every house had to filled.

No camps were ready and to the joy of all we ten year old boys, the soldiers were coming.  Late one night they arrived at Tring Station, marched the mile and three-quarters into the town and stood in the pouring rain, in the light of a lantern, as one went into one house, two into the next and so on. But they were not what we boys had expected.  Only the Officers and Senior N.C.O.s had uniforms, other ranks were in their civilian clothes.  They were all young volunteers, wet, cold and hungry in their rough working clothes grimed from their previous occupation, for they were miners straight out of the coalfields of the north east.  They even spoke in a dialect we couldn’t understand for we had never heard a ‘Geordie’ in our part of the country.  They were soon to be members of two proud regiments, The Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry.  We had two billeted with us.  Both were regular soldiers, Regimental Sergeant Major Parker and a corporal whose name I cannot remember, but R.S.M. Parker I shall never forget.  He was the first Sgt. Major I had ever seen, or heard, and when he spoke I jumped, for he really put the fear of God in to me.  After that I never liked Sgt-Majors.  Even years afterward when I was a Private in the Second Word War, when the first Sgt-Major shouted at me I thought “I’ll bet your bloody name’s Parker”.

Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet (but not the hooves) of cattle.  “Neat” in the oil’s name comes from an old English word for cattle.  The oil is used as a conditioning, softening and preservative agent for leather.


by Doris Miller (Neé Baldwin)

1940 saw the beginning of petrol rationing, meat and food rationing of all kinds.  Identity cards were issued as were dockets for furniture.  Everyone registered at the Food Office in Miswell Lane, which was run by Bob Kempster with Mrs Emmie Hobbs assisting him.  Later in the war our retired Tring Police Sergeant, Sergeant Mansfield, joined them.

Each person was issued with a Ration Book for meat, bacon, sugar, tea, butter, lard, margarine and cheese, also eggs, unless one kept poultry.  They were issued with poultry feed coupons, which most people bought from Meads Flour Mill.  Also in the beige-coloured ration books were “points coupons”. If you were lucky, perhaps two or three times a year, you could get a tin of fruit or fish if the grocer had had a delivery.  When your points ran out it was “hard luck” for another year.  Sweets were also on coupons as were clothes.  There was a lot of black marketing going on with people buying sweet or clothing coupons off poorer families who couldn’t afford luxuries.

By now all slaughtering was done at abattoirs only, which was Reg Sallery’s in the High Street (now Almars) and the meat distributed from there.

Syd Baldwin, the manager of Produce Butchers, New Mill, bade farewell to each of the three young men who worked for him when they were called up.  So who was going to deliver the meat to the villages on Friday nights and Saturday mornings?  There was Aldbury, Wiggington, Wilstone and Marsworth.  Syd couldn’t drive, so his daughter Doris had two quick lessons from Percy Dwight before he was called up.  She says she really hadn’t a clue, but managed somehow.

A gas-powered London bus.

The old green double-deck London Transport buses ran on town gas.  They towed quite a large trailer with a black gas cylinder attached.  It was very effective.

No-one had to go out without their Identity Card, which bore their personal number and, of course, they always had to carry their gas-mask with them.

Young couples started marrying before their loved ones were posted overseas.  If they were lucky enough to find somewhere to live, they were issued with a few furniture dockets for the bare essentials i.e. a bed, chair and table.  Pregnant women were issued with a green or blue ration book and if they were lucky enough got one or two bananas a month - if the greengrocer had a delivery.  After the birth they then exchanged the book for a green one for the child.

Black-out material wasn’t on ration as everyone had to buy it to black out their windows, after they had put masking tape, criss-cross on their window panes, to stop flying glass in the event of an air raid.

Coal was in short supply, so people used to go to the woods to collect old timber for their fires.  Many also went to the coal yard at Tring Station and filled sacks with coal-dust, then mixed it with a little dust or cement to make brickets, which burned slowly but effectively!  Towards the end of 1940, whale meat was introduced to the local butchers in an attempt to eke out the meat ration.  It was dark red in appearance, but after being exposed to air for a while it turned black.  Sad to say it didn’t catch on.  Housewives tried many ways of cooking it, with pans of onions, etc., but it was still tough and had a fishy taste.


by Joyce Hollingworth (neè Forsythe).

When I first arrived in Tring as a very frightened little girl I wasn’t very impressed.  I was sent to a couple who didn’t want an evacuee, so I had to sleep on the bathroom floor, although I was very comfortable and warm.  The place was spotless, but being bankers they were rather posh.  Eventually I was moved to the real Tring.  There began the happiest time of my childhood when I heard someone say “Hello, my duck, would you like to go to the pictures?”  I knew I was home.

In those days Tring seemed much smaller.  I thought it was wonderful after living in Enfield, which I thought was quite countrified although compared to Tring it was a town.  There were so many new experiences for me, things that I would never have had the chance to do had I not been evacuated.  I tobogganed in the moonlight on Lord Rothschild’s Estate, tramped through the woods, “ooding” with old Aunt Flop – that meant collecting wood for her fire.  I saw a subsidence where seven trees had gone one on top of the other.  I nearly got caught scrumping greengages.  There were so many things I did that could only happen in dear old Tring.  It was all great fun for a townie like me.

My friends who looked after me were kindness itself and couldn’t do enough for me – indeed, they did everything for me.  Nell used to make my clothes out of any material she could get hold of, and I was the smartest “vac” in town.  One of my dearest memories is of Fred, Nell’s husband.  I was eating tomatoes on toast when he knocked on the back door, just back from Dunkirk.  There he stood in a uniform made up of all bits and pieces, but we were so pleased to see him.

I live on my memories of Tring and here I am, 60 years later, still in touch with the family that looked after me so well, who I love dearly and visit whenever I can.

Note: The lady who looked after Joyce was Mrs Nellie Nicholls of 17, Henry Street.



Some memories of Ron Kitchener, pictured below,
enclosed in a letter dated December 2001.

Photo courtesy of Mike Bass.

It was a renowned travelling historian who wrote that he saw emus peering over the ha-ha and boundary wall that separated Nell Gwynne’s Avenue from the Old Market Street, the site of the cattle and general market place that we tend to think of in these modern times as the Lower High Street.  I never did, neither have I spoken to anyone who could enlighten me as to that being a fact (which is not to say it was not!).

Nell Gwynn’s Obelisk, Tring Park.

My earliest memories of these large, foreign, cursorial flightless birds was as a young boy in the late 1920s.  Many families would follow the fenced path extending from Park Street (once Maidenhead Street) up to Tring Park, particularly at weekends.  They would picnic, play in the park, or to continue through it, usually close to the set footpaths, and through the park wood up the cobbled track to Nell Gwynnes Obelisk (it was a path of inclined banks, of wild flowers, snowdrops and daffodils, and always so clean and tidy) to witness many a herd of deer that ventured from the wood to the isolated fringes of the open park.  Children would run around the Obelisk (surrounded by a fence) sufficient times to be giddy from the effort, in the belief that a ghostly image of dear Nell would appear to present them with an orange, but she never did!

The final resting place was usually situated on the high headland of the Oddy Hill, there to admire the idyllic view reaching, in the east, to the Chiltern Hills and to devour the goodies from the picnic bag.  However, now to back-track to the point where we entered the park, which was through a very tall iron clapping gate, where traumatic happenings would often be experienced!  These cursorial and often ‘cursed birds’ were very aware of the walkers, which they saw as a source of food.  This was given either with generous consent or taken by some form of scrounging or intimidation by attacking the source in a persistent way.  Some were gentle, most were not – far from it!  Their size and trampling were awesome enough, but their long necks and small heads (with a penetrating glare from hypnotic eyes)  would strike like a cobra at anything that appeared edible.  It was a frightening experience!  Often they approached in an Armada, and any bright shining article – a brooch, hair clip, badge watch, pocket handkerchief or the like – that protruded from a carrier bag or handbag was deemed a tasty morsel.  Earrings were a speciality, never to be chewed but swallowed whole.  To those who recall Rod Hull’s Emu and its attack on Michael Parkinson, it was a close impression of the reality that could exist in Tring Park, and that
s a fact.  My personal experience in those tender years of childhood was to feed an emu with a spearmint chew from my pocket - needs I say more?  For want of more, it sought to rape my person and pocket!  I ran many hundreds of yards along the park path with this persistent creature in pursuit until I reached the monument gate.  Phew!  I shall never forget that experience!  So frightened and out of breath, and still to hear those plonking three-toed feet behind me, no wonder I was always carried a stick with me whenever I went walking thereafter.   I certainly did not want a like experience, neither did I seek to scrounge an orange from Nell Gwynne’s basket!  But there were several other experience, that I well recall from visiting Tring Park that i shall never forget.

Emus in Tring Park.

It is my habit to ramble on through local history, so I will mention several other of my experiences that happened in that part of the Rothschild family’s domain.

When winter arrived, and the snow laid right and frost prevailed to glaze its surface, local folk would make tracks for Tring Park.  It seemed a time when the Rothschilds permitted the public to venture across the Park with their home-made sledges and purchased toboggans to the slopes of the high rising escarpment, where greater challenges existed.  Three main runs come to mind.  The ‘emu path’ or footpath that held close to the fence and the steep incline on the south side.  This appealed to the less venturesome, where the children would skid down on their sledges, toboggans and tea trays, without too much harm, for it levelled off to a gentle stop.  ‘The devil’s bump’ lay along the valley to the west.  It was a steady slope with a sudden drop that could take the breath away!  But the greatest challenge and the greatest thrill was the ‘leafy dell’, which required nerve and courage to face, a real thriller!  One needed to drag one’s conveyance high up the escarpment among the trees, then, not to gently sit but to leap on whilst it made off!  So many who sought to do so tempted providence.  It was necessary to manhandle the sledge amongst the massive tree trunks that blocked the way, but that was only part of it!  At the bottom of the slope were masses of long established hills that gave the final thrill, which was to take off like a plane and fly.  Very few ever completed the challenge and many were often much the worse for their experience.  I recall my last attempt, with four on the sledge!  We didn’t make it, for we hit a tree causing a school chum to suffer broken bones and hospitalisation.  The other members of the crew learned from that disaster – never again!

Yet, much later in life, as fathers do, I sought to demonstrate to our two sons that I was not past such an adventure, not down the leafy dell but the devil’s bump, and did I bump!  There comes the time to learn by foolish experience and at best to venture to show off on the gentle slopes!  But such times have passed, and to stand and watch seems wiser.

Negotiating a bump on an old tin plate, Tring Park.

But the mind still backtracks to the difficult and hard days of the past, to when the winters seemed much harsher and longer! When central heating systems were only for the rich, and (one wondered ) how to keep the homes fires burning when coal supplies and reserves where depleted and deliveries were very sparse.  Lord Rothschild gave permission for any to enter the Park and woods to collect fallen boughs to use as firewood, and many people would face the donkey work to do so.  Any form of personal conveyance was utilised – old trucks, trailers, pram chassis, cycles and baskets; shoulder carrying and even dragging by rope or chain.  T’was then I joined the trek to strap a long log to the frame of my treasured bicycle to find the load so great that it broke!

So the memories of Tring Park prevail, some wonderful, some not so!  Just too many to mention.  Now I rarely venture to the extremes of it.


by Doug Sinclair 2008.

A 19th Century view of Akeman Street.
The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum was later built on the site at the right.

I was born in a room over the alley leading to Clements Place in Akeman Street on the 28 September 1927.  Thus started a wonderful and mainly happy childhood.

At a very early age I was left with my aunt Win while my mother was hospitalised.  In those days relatives or neighbours took on children in need, with no thought of monetary rewards or meddling by do- gooders.  By the time my mother came home I had bonded with my aunt, and so they decided that she would keep me for another week or two.  This stretched to the day I was called up at the age of eighteen.

I have fond memories of my Uncle Jack, a north-countryman who had come to Tring with the Northumberland Fusiliers in the First World War.  He had been badly gassed in the trenches and suffered very poor health, but he never complained and worked hard all his life.  Complaining people of this generation could learn a lot from those who really had to struggle.

As I child I lived in Surrey Place.  It was a very different place in those days.  It was approached by an arch between Batchelor’s shop and a row of cottages.  Inside was a row of derelict cottages which had fallen into disrepair.  Further into the yard was a row of three cottages.  We lived in the middle one, No 5.  There were two bedrooms with an upstairs attic, and a tiny kitchen and front room downstairs.  When I think that during the war it housed me, my aunt and uncle, and four evacuees – it really puts overcrowding into perspective!

Surrey Place was almost a community on its own.  Everybody tended to stick together as a group including Mums and Dads.  Summer evenings where an excuse to have a good old gossip and it was quite a sight to see all the ladies perched on their dustbins doing just that.

As I approach the age of 81 I feel it is time to record my memories of Akeman Street, which in the thirties was regarded as the main hub of the town.  I thought of several methods, but decided to concentrate on the myriad of shops and businesses, ranging from bakers to breweries, which used to be in the street.

The first shop at the bottom of the street – technically in the High Street – was Alex Smith the chemist.  I remember him as a dour Scot, very distinguished looking and a highly respected member of the community.  As children we used to wonder what weird and wonderful potions were stored in the large coloured carboys in the shop window – little did I think that in later years I would be cleaning it as a window cleaner.

Next came Parks Electrical.  Mr Tom Parks was the proprietor and I believe his was the first shop in the town to stock TVs.  I well remember taking our radio accumulator to be charged – I think it cost sixpence – and to be told not to spill the acid, or unspeakable things would happen to me.  On special occasions, such as the Cup Final or the Derby, Parks would put a tiny TV in his garage for people to view.  What a great day!  Phil, his son, went on to be a stalwart in the towns’ football team.

The came the Victoria Hall, which in the thirties was probably the most important building in the street.  It was the H.Q. of the British Legion – until stolen from them by Dacorum Borough Council in the 1980s – and as such housed the brass band.  In those days it was forty or more strong and a stirring sight to us youngsters in their smart blue uniforms.  The hall was also used for children’s parties at Christmas and on other the occasions.  Dances were held twice weekly and they gave lots of pleasure, especially during the war when the Americans from Cheddington Air Base would turn up.  They came in large numbers suitably controlled by the Provost Marshall and his ‘snowdrops’ (American military police) in their distinctive Jeep.  The British Legion, especially the ladies, put on many plays and variety entertainments and the large hall was always sold out.

The Victoria Hall in Akeman Street (on the left) was erected in 1886 to a design by local architect William Huckvale (1848-1936).  It set out in life as a speculative playhouse, failed, and has since had a varied career, serving out part of its time (the Works seen here) as a pickle factory.  It was later presented to the town by Victor, 3rd Baron Rothschild, and today houses council offices and function rooms.


After Parks came Sayers Newsagent and Barber.  George Sayer, the owner, was also at one time bandmaster of the Salvation Army Band, which was very strong at that time – I believe his sons also played in the band.  My first haircut must have been at Sayers, for all the boys went there.  For several years the shop ran a very popular lending library.  I remember being a paper boy at Sayers for 1/6d (7½p) a week.  Today’s boys don’t know how we lived.

We next come to George Sykes, a favourite haunt of teenage boys because a glass of Rodwell’s lemonade could be bought and drunk in the shop.  He was a confectioner and tobacconist.

Ernie Childs, the shoemaker, had the shop that is now the fish and chip shop.  I can still remember the smell of fresh leather and polish that emanated from the door as we passed by.

“Curly” Burch ran the fish and chip shop for Mr Keele.  Then it was the little bow-fronted shop next door to the present one.  We used to ask for a tuppeny piece of fish and one penny-worth of chips, and please can we have some crinklings (small pieces of batter)?  Curly was a real character and well liked by everybody.  Eventually he and his wife took over the shop and ran it for many years.

Next door came my Uncle Harold who, for a while, ran a second-hand shop.  I don’t think it was much of a success because if Aunt Norah (who was a wonderful Irish lady) thought that people couldn’t afford things, she was quite likely to give it to them.

We are not yet halfway up the street.

We now come to Grace’s Maltings.  In the thirties this was a very busy mill and my most vivid recollections are of a flock of bantams that roamed around the mill yard.  Many a time I have had bantam cocks attack my bare legs as I walked past on my way to school.  It used to be a favourite errand to go to the mill for three penny-worth of mixed corn to feed the chickens that most people kept – nearly always a springer spaniel belonging to Bob Grace would be sleeping in the sun.  I remember how scary the inside of the mill was, with everything shaking and vibrating.

As we move further up the street, the next shop belonged to George Woodward.  It was a tiny cottage type shop selling mainly sweets and tobacco.  I always used to buy penny bags of broken crisps and I can recall that that was where I purchased my first ever Wagonwheel.  It seems to have been twice as big as they are now, but I suppose childhood memories always magnify.  The Woodwards had a lodger who used to travel for Betterware.  He used to be immaculately dressed in breeches, black boots and a bowler hat, and he drove a pony and trap.  I believe he as later killed while serving in the RAF.

There was then a gap leading to Pleasant Row, comprising three or four cottages, which led to Bank Alley.  Standing back was Jones’s Motor Garage, later owned by Stan Cook, a great character.  Woe betide the lady with a squeaky wheel on a pram or pushchair.  She would be ordered to stop, and Stan or his Dad would rush out with an oil can and remedy the defect before the lady was allowed to go on her way.

Just the other side of the gap stood the general stores of Clara Bull.  She sold a little bit of everything.  I sometimes had to go shopping there and it was a pleasure as she always used to give us kids a few sweets at the weekend, but not on Sunday.  Mrs Bull used to cook the most delicious fish and chips and for 6d (2½p) you would get enough to feed a family.  The only downside was that people would buy them on their way to the Gaiety Cinema and take them in to eat.  The aroma used to mingle with the spray they used in the interval and made quite an interesting smell.

We now come to Bonds the bakers.  As children this was our favourite shop on our way to school.  Mrs Bond used to make the most fabulous cake she called Dinky, but I think most people address it as Nelson.  It was a penny a slice and we always hoped that her daughter-in-law, Amy, would serve us as she was very generous with the portions – Mrs Bond was inclined to be less generous.

By the side of the Bonds was the entrance to Rodwell’s mineral water works, makers of the famous ‘Roddy orange’.  I suppose in the thirties Rodwells had four or five lorries and employed twenty or thirty staff.  My first job was with them, and I remember being paid 11s-8d (53½p) for a 48-hour week.  I didn’t stay very long, leaving to work for Tring Co-op (that’s another story).  It seems such a shame that Rodwells have now ceased trading.


Finally we now come to the biggest shop, that of George (another one) Batchelor.  His was the main shop in Akeman Street and he sold everything, from paraffin oil to bacon.  Most people in the street dealt with George and he ran a weekly book for most of them.  Everything was weighed up – from bulk sugar to dried fruit, such as a raisins, currants etc. – and packaged in distinctive blue bags tied with string.  I wonder what health and safety would say about the tabby cat I remember always being asleep in the shop window.  George would, with impunity, serve someone with bacon and the next person with paraffin, but nobody died.  Inside the shop’s front door was the cellar where all sorts of things were stored, very much like the Ronnie Barker comedy Open All Hours.



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