EWELME - A ROMANTIC VILLAGE ITS PAST AND PRESENT. ITS PEOPLE AND ITS HISTORY.
CHARACTERS IN THE CLOISTERS AND VILLAGE WORTHIES.
The family of Winfield (or Wingfield) is probably the most ancient still extant in Ewelme. They were, originally, as their name testifies, retainers of the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, brought over with the lord from his estate of Wingfield in Suffolk, and taking their name (as retainers often did) from their master's lands. There was also in the fifteenth century a noble family of Wingfields, with whom the de la Pole's intermarried. (Later there is a drawing by Holbein of a Sir Richard Wingfield, Knight).
There was usually a Winfield inhabiting the Cloisters and it was a strange fact that the Winfield families in Ewelme still showed their East Anglian origin; they were ruddy, fair - haired and blue-eyed, and powerfully built almost to a man and had a tradition of upright dealing and religious observance. Ferdinand Winfield, a saintly old inmate of the Cloisters, known as Freddy whom it was a privilege to visit, told me once that his grandfather could remember the day when the family finally forsook the old faith (to which they must have clung in an unusual manner) and became members of the Church of England. His name of Ferdinand was certainly an unusual one and even suggests some possible Spanish connection in the past.
Ever since its foundation there had probably been Winfields inhabiting the Almshouses, and in our day there had been several - James Winfield, our gardener, eventually retired to the Cloisters. He had the typical Winfield colouring and added Sexton's duties to those of his gardening. He was most conscientious worker and much enjoyed giving a daily report on the weather and on the people and doings in the Parish. Occasionally he knowingly would wax poetical in his remarks on the weather, and I well remember one day when he prognosticated thunder “ Mark my words, Sir ,” he would say, “ We shall have a storm before the day is out, for the clouds they do stand like monuments in the sky ”... A phrase of simple grandeur surely unsurpassed...
There was Richard Winfield too, a truly “good shepherd”, kindly and mild of manner and devoted to his calling, which in those days entailed many cold and lonely nights in the fields in the shepherd's hut, (The most frequented “ pub ” in Ewelme was dignified by the name of “ Shepherd's Hut ”.) Among other remarkable Almsmen was old Sam Walklin, whose distinction lay in the fact that he had earned four medals and always wore them, for he was very proud of having served in five campaigns, viz: the Crimea, the Indian Mutiny, Coomassie (Ashanti) and the Taku Forts (China). He always regretted the missing fifth medal for the Red River Campaign (Canada) which for some reason or other the Government never issued to him.
His widow lived on some time after his death, and, sad to say, ended her days in that dreary institution, the Workhouse. Here she complained bitterly of being forced into a bath for the first time in her life - “ Crool ”, she said to me, “ Crool it was ” and no doubt it appeared so to her but was probably necessary!
The Grand Old Man of the Cloisters was certainly Septimus Edward Garlick. He had known better days, and by virtue of his superior education, acted as spokesman for the other Almsmen. A tall largely-made important-looking man, upright even in old age, he was fond of recounting his life's vicissitudes. He had at one time, been proprietor of the Horse Shoe Hotel at Rugby - and proudest boast of all - he had “ shaken hands with his late Gracious Majesty, King Edward VII ”. This memorable event happened during a day's hunting with Lord Macclesfield when Garlick was a prosperous farmer and rode with the South Oxon pack. Septimus was one of twenty children, as he was fond of telling you, and the seventh son of his father. (The father had three wives, so that the average of six children per wife and more was not so startling!) He had a sister called Octavia, but beyond this their numerical names did not reach.
Septimus was a well-educated man, having been instructed at a Grammar-School kept by his father. He had acquired a knowledge of the classics there and a certain ponderous habit of speech which never left him, and which with his own striking presence lent a kind of weight to everything he said, which naturally helped to give him the position of “ foreman ” in the Almshouses. When we knew him, he was very deaf and infirm, but his good-nature and jocular humour never left him. He was not one of those embittered by coming down in the world, though money had formerly flowed freely through his hands. Another of his foibles was to boast of his fancied likeness to Sir William Harcourt and of how he had once been mistaken for that nobleman and it gave him the greatest pleasure if a visitor were to endorse the likeness.
His knowledge of the classics had by that time sunk to the repetition of the Lord's Prayer in Latin, which he boomed out in stentorian tones to any privileged visitor.
Every year, at the Harvest Festival, the Church was presented with a loaf of giant size, which always stood in a place of honour before the Altar and had a large label attached; on it, Septimus, in his best copper-plate handwriting, had inscribed “ Give us this day our daily bread ”. This label was the visible sign-manual of his grammar-school training. He was also celebrated for his home-made ointment, a cure according to himself for “ all the ills that flesh is heir to ”. It was concocted from herbs by an old family recipe, handed down by his grandmother. What the ingredients were I was never able to find out. Were you to be highly favoured, he might present you with a box of this precious medicament. He had a great eye for the ladies, complimenting my cousin on her beautiful complexion and advising her to preserve it by diligent use of his ointment!
Poor Mrs Garlick (the second) was reduced to the state of admiring slave to the old man, having been promoted from the position of housekeeper to that of wife, and consequently duly feeling her inferiority. She was always referred to as “ my good wife ”, and was expected to supply his failing memory with the right word for the occasion; “ Sep ” being a great connoisseur in words, Mrs Garlick gained such a varied repertory that she made a point of using three words where one would do. She would tell you, for instance, that she was “ pleased and grateful and thankful ” for your “ kindness and thought and consideration ”. Hence a visit to the Garlick's was always a lengthy affair, as “ Sep ” had to be addressed first through his long horn trumpet and then his answer translated by Mrs Garlick into sufficiently grandiloquent language!
Septimus' only rival in education among the Almsmen at that time was old “ Saw ”, a self-taught opinionated man, whose boasted learning consisted mainly of certain out-of-date theological works. He was a sort of Red Hot Gospeller and when I took my cousin to see him and he heard she had been educated at a Convent School, he jumped out of his seat with excitement and exclaimed - shaking his fist at her “ I don't care who you is, young lady, I'd say it to you just the same, you've been as near the Devil, as ever you'll be again in this life or the next! ” Much to the annoyance of Sam Walklin, the Crimean veteran, he used to allude to soldiers as “ paid murderers ”. Of his wife he used to say, when Old Age Pensions first came in - “ I can't afford to lose her just yet !” -“ You're a wonderful man, Saw ” - I said to him one day -“ Wonderful ?” he repeated - “ Yes, I should just think I am wonderful! ” And there we will leave old Saw.
Then there was Peter Holland, another inmate of the Cloisters, who used to wear a home-made smock of coarse linen, with most elaborate stitching, made by his wife (in fact we borrowed this smock for our Pageant). Peter Holland was a survival of the genuine simple unlettered yokel, a type now extinct, whether for better or worse. When he died the smock died with him.
Another unusual character was James Betterton, a confirmed and crusty old bachelor, who by his celibate state fulfilled literally the original statutes of Alice and William de la Pole. His absorbing hobby was the manufacture of sloe-gin. He was hospitably inclined and year after year used to invite us in to sample his latest vintage of this home-made beverage. Unfortunately his manners did not include the use of glasses and he always took a preliminary “ swig ” of the old black bottle before offering it to his guests. He was one of the few bachelors in the place, though there was another man, Crowdy by name, an ex-butler I think, who was of a mild and civilized nature and whose favourite occupations were the very feminine ones of embroidery and the making of wedding-cakes! To leave the Cloisters and turn to other inhabitants of the village past and present, there is first the traditional grand figure of Sir Hildebrand Jacob - (dead long before our day) who flourished in the early nineteenth century and seems to have lived up to his name. He owned a mansion on the hill, of which every trace had gone long before, and legend says that he had a wide carriage drive and sweep made in front of the house, so that he could turn his coach and four in a fine dashing style, and swing out of the wide iron gates, blowing his horn as he passed through the village.
His only living descendant in our day was an elderly Mr Jacob, who kept the small village store. Why the family thus sunk into obscurity I do not know.
The Heaths too, who kept another unpretentious grocer's shop, had also had noteworthy ancestors. They had at one time, it is said, been wealthy hide-merchants in Russia, and the fine altar tombs in the church-yard to the Heath family in by-gone days, bear witness to their present-day fallen fortunes.
The Pouparts, too, were unusual people, of French origin (most likely of Huguenot stock.) They, too, kept a small shop and the strange thing about both father and son was that, although they had never been to France or spoken a word of French, yet the two, father and son, were completely French in appearance and dress, even to the wearing of a peaked shiny black cap! But it was a deadly insult to both to even hint at their French origin! Is it, perhaps an inherited memory of long ago insults and ridicule levelled at their ancestors, when they arrived as refugees in England?...
Justins was a man of unfamiliar type in any English village - a swarthy, handsome bearded Italian in appearance, a tall distinguished foreigner you would say, if you met him by chance and he certainly lent an air of romance to the village. The story went that his Ewelme mother brought him over from France as a child, and he would tell you with pride that his father's family came from a poor branch of an old Italian family and that his name of Justins (Giustini) proves that he came of noble descent, for said he, “ The common name is Giustino = Justin in the singular ”. He had all the Italian craftsman's manual skill; carpentering, wood-carving and fret-work as well as photography and music were his accomplishments and he even tried to teach his children French, in those days something rare indeed. He held unconventional views both in politics and religion, and was popularly labelled as an anarchist - perhaps a natural exaggeration of his Socialist opinions, then quite outside our village scope. He was very friendly with another strange inhabitant of Ewelme, one of the Paget family - who spent most of his time in raising cucumbers and tomatoes from his glass-houses on the southern slope behind the village street. He was extremely musical and used to play his piano alone in a shed for hours: he was a solitary by nature and used to sit at the bottom of a deep well, where he had a platform constructed to enable him to escape unwanted visitors! He was also given to scientific inventions, of which the patents were to make his fortune; unfortunately, they were always snapped up beforehand by a more wide-awake sort of person. But there is no doubt that “ our Paget” had more than a touch of genius.
A link with Anglo-Saxon days was the Franklin family, as the name will tell you, and the father of the family showed his Saxon descent to a remarkable degree. He was fair-haired, blue-eyed, tall and ruddy of countenance, by profession a wine-merchant, combining his walk of life with a keen interest in the Church, which he served faithfully as Church warden for many years.
Another historic link in Ewelme was the presence in our day of a Mrs Hampden, then an old lady, whose family was collaterally connected with the great John Hampden, and also with the Bishop Hampden at one time Rector of Ewelme. Mrs Hampden helped us in our local Pageant by fitting out her young groom in an exact replica of the green uniform (tunic and breeches) worn by John Hampden's company of yeomen. I must not forget our venerable dame, old Mrs Hathaway, (whether the family came from Stratford-on-Avon, I do not know!) This rather awe-inspiring old lady died when well on in her nineties, but the tale is told that after she had kept her ninetieth birthday, she fell ill and was expected to die. Children and grandchildren stood anxiously round her bed, begging her to take some food or drink to revive her failing strength. But the old lady steadily refused any nourishments and for two whole days kept up her grim attitude, repeating slowly and emphatically at intervals to the assembled family at her bedside - “ I've seen many a one die o' guzzling but never yet one die o' starving ”. And she was right, for after her two days fast the old dame rose from her bed confronted her shocked family and lived in good health for several years afterwards, just missing her century.
Another old Ewelme widow of a very different kind was Mrs Meade - she was a stout woman and a lover of the table. Being poor, in old age, my father used to give her from time to time a generous cut of beef. When he brought her a suitable joint, as he thought, at Christmas, he noticed that she did not seem as pleased as he had hoped she would be. “ Well, Mrs Meade ”, he said, “ I hope the meat is to your liking? ” - “ Oh Sir ”, she replied, “ I hopes you won't mind what I'm going to say, but I do likes my meat when I can smell it! ” Consternation on my father's part!
And so I conclude these annals of our more outstanding Ewelme characters; they were one and all individuals, unshaped by fashion and the hour, in contrast to the folk of today, whose one aim, it seems, is to be correctly cut to shape and pattern.