Memories of Jean Janes nee Bray

William Bray 21st October 2019
High Trees, West End

Memories of Jean Janes daughter of William Bray

As I mentioned, my late father was William Bray, and I used to spend happy holidays during the summer with my Aunties Nell Radford, Annie Bray (later Chapman ) and cousin Mary Radford at High Trees, West End. I am 93 now, and I am conscious that my days are running out, and I wonder how many people are still alive able to look back so far?

I must have been one of the last women who went gleaning on the cornfield nearby, after the harvest. I went with Mary, and we were able to glean a considerable amount once the field was declared “open to gleaners”. Beneficiaries were Mary’s hens; there was a wartime allowance of poultry feed and 6 hens were permitted to be kept per household. (I think the egg ration was 1 egg per person per week.)

The midges, locally called “harvesters”, were vicious, and made a meal of my fair skin. I used to say “I’m sure they know I’m coming and say “Come on, boys, Jean is back from Luton to make a feast for us”. Poor Auntie Nell had to put me in a hot bath and cover my bites with calamine lotion. I bet they are still there!

What stands out in my pictorial memory is that of how lovely the stooks of corn looked in those days before the norm became neat but unlovely square bundles. I know I sang, with gusto, “Fair waved the golden corn, in Canaan’s pleasant land…….” at the Harvest Festival.

Going back a generation, my father was the youngest of the Bray children, and as such it was his duty to fetch water from Ashwell Springs for drinking. No water was wasted, and no-one else seems to know what is “silly water”, water once used, but kept in a bucket for other use, I.e. watering the vegetable patch. Later a well was dug but that was not fit to drink. What a wonder was drinking water from a tap, but was often still boiled for safety.

Together with my two children, I inherited the estate of Mary Radford, and it was with a very heavy heart High Trees was passed to others. Of recent years my grandchildren said they had found a picture of the property and were worried I would grieve at the later extension. However, I said to them that the Brays were builders originally coming down the country with those similar tradesman who followed the canals, roads and railways South. Respect!

At the close of his life I took back my father to lie with the rest of the Brays. I said then, his heart had never left Ashwell. My mother followed him later.

You can find more about William Bray by clicking on this link


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