On the twentieth of January 1702, in the fifth year of the reign of Queen Anne, Lawrence Michael Martin of Roydon sold the Half Moon Inn to William Russell of “High Whites”. See reproduced indenture below. Three hundred and eleven years and three weeks later, on Wednesday the thirteenth of February, some of us were invited to the opening of the Chandini Restaurant, now standing at the same place on our Village Green. Fine Indian Cuisine is now served there. Forgive me if I get a little bit nostalgic.
Whether Martin and Russell served ales themselves I have been unable to ascertain. What I did find is that in 1765 Daniel Haddon and Mary Lawrence sold the Moon on to Andrew Sharpe. Interestingly Andrew’s daughter Elisabeth then married Thomas Rivers the second, yes the one from the Nursery of that name. Another indenture, this one dated 16th April 1805 shows how Rivers together with his brother in law sold the Moon on to a William Beldam. Beldam must have acted on behalf of Hawkes and Hawkes brewers from Bishops Stortford. This is in fact confirmed in W. Branch Johnson’s book on Hertfordshire Inns. Other signees of the 1805 document were William Woodham and Thomas Bird. In 1898 Hawkes sold out to Benskins who in turn sold out to Ind Coope in 1957.
However, owning a pub did not mean actually serving the pints. The earliest actual Half Moon licensee on the annual “”Victuallers Recognizances” and one who served from 1806 to 1826 was William Prior. Upon Prior’s death in 1828 the Hertfordshire Mercury wrote that “aged upwards of 70, he left a numerous family to deplore his loss”. Prior was followed by Thomas Dalton and James Glyn, The Glyns and the Daltons intermarried. Ann Dalton was James Glyn’s sister in law. John Dalton, whilst living at the Half Moon, also worked as a cobbler.
The Half Moon in the early 20th century
Other licensees were William Wybrew from 1861 to 1871, Alfred Gatwood around 1886, George Powe in 1891, Henry Miles in 1894, George Holden in 1901 and Thomas Pither in 1908. Archibald Blair stood at the taps from 1911 until 1929. He was followed by Herbert Nelson Smith who was there from the early thirties until at least the end of the second world war.
After the second world war the Helmer family (Bert and Joan) took over. Herbert Smith was in fact Joan Helmer’s stepfather. Bert’s tenure did not last long and he was followed by William and Kathy Bury and their son, young Bill, one of the sources for this article.
One local many still remember from that time is Buke (real name Arthur Mascall) who lived along High Wych Lane in a house that only got electricity and plumbing in 1973. Usually dressed in a rather “informal way”, he was often seen wandering about with a three wheeled cart in which he kept the vegetables he sold. I have it confirmed from two independent sources that Buke used to put a gold sovereign on the counter announcing this should cover his drinks until further notice. Another regular, Ernie Springham, often played the concertina, a primitive squeeze box type accordion, or as he called it, his “Tina”. This was not always appreciated by all. I am told that at one point the instrument was sawn in half by irate fellow drinkers!
Buke. Buke again plus Frank Prentiss and Len Kempthorne
It was strange that in those days even a small pub such as the Half Moon was divided into a public bar and a saloon. These divisions were very real with people in working clothes not welcome in the saloon. As it was so small, the Moon was sometimes called “the doll’s house”. There was even talk of a ghost.
The Burys were followed by Dick Askins, who was followed by Peter Walker. He was in turn followed by Dave and Janet Herring. The Herrings, who did away with the division between public and saloon bars, were in charge from 1982 until 1998.
Rumour has it that during their tenure thieves broke into the cellar through the metal grill and got away with some beer. Access to the cellar was restricted afterwards. What is true is that at some point thieves stole a barrel of “ullage” (beer that had gone bad) from the yard at the back. They probably suffered from stomach pains afterwards!
Jason and Katie Noel managed the Half Moon in the first few years of the 21st century. Jason was a dab at hand interior decorating whilst Katie’s work as a cook is still praised.
According to the CAMRA database the Half Moon Inn closed on 1st March 2009. It did carry on as a restaurant but regrettably stopped serving beer on draught. For most of the time though it stood empty. Until that is, the Mojid family, owners of the Shadona restaurant in Bishops Stortford took over. The grade II listed building has been restored and refurbished with great respect for its heritage. Entry is once again through the front. At the back an extension dining room has been built which fits in beautifully with the rest of the building. The food is fine; the chef de cuisine was voted chef of the year 2013 in a recent survey of curry houses. High Wych can well do with such a good a restaurant. Still there is that name. Yes, I have been told Chandini or Chand means moon in Hindi, but who speaks Hindi here in High Wych?. Far more importantly however we have a major enterprise at the centre of our community. That is important. It would be churlish not to wish Jay Mojid, his family and his colleagues all the success in the world.
Fine Indian Dining in High Wych: The Chandini
Thanks this time go to Roger Beeching, Bill Bury, Richard Dixon, Nina Elsdon, Janet and Dave Herring, Lily Mynott, Christopher Mynott and as always the people at HALS, aka County Archives. These articles would be impossible without your contributions, your memories, stories and photographs.
Our Village Hall dates from 1923 but the idea of building came about much earlier. Sometime after the death in 1908 of Bishop Johnson, first vicar of High Wych, it was suggested a village hall should be built dedicated to his memory. The first mention I found of those plans date from January 1912. See below. Five months later, on 22nd June, the Essex Newsman reported on another fundraiser: a garden fete and bazar held at the Manor of Groves. Under auspices of Mr. Frederick Silva, then resident there, the event was opened by Johnson;s successor as bishop of Colchester, the right rev. R.H. Whitcombe. The band of the Essex Yeomanry lent jollification and “a considerable sum was raised”
Fundraising continued but the Great War intervened. In November 1922 however, local landowner Arthur Salvin Bowlby donated a plot of land adjacent to the Churchyard with a view of erecting a village hall. Henry Fowell Buxton, a brewer who then lived at the Manor of Groves, Horace Fuller Rackham, the vicar and Bowlby himself signed the deed of gift. They also became the first trustees. The Hall was to be dedicated to the memory of Bishop Johnson of Colchester, first High Wych vicar and to those who lost their lives in the Great War. The deed stipulated the Hall was to be used “for the purposes of physical and mental recreations and for holding meetings in connection with religious and philanthropic objects”. How to interpret this was left to the trustees but it was also said that “the premises shall at no time be used for revolutionary propaganda.”
Work started quickly and after only four months the Hall was finished. An article in the Herts and Essex Observer at the time described it as “a handsome building of brick and red slates”. It becomes a meeting place for High Wych Village Club, the Parish Council, ,the Women’s Institute, the Men’s Club, the Scouts and Cubs, the Hockey Club, the Girl Guides and the Brownies. Naturally villagers are as proud as punch of their new hall and the local paper mentions many occasions of its use. In 1923 only the Herts and Essex Observer of 1923 mentions our new hall several times. A whist drive in April of that year is the first example I found. Some seventy people took part and raised funds so that a piano could be bought. On 17th November it is reported that that H.F. Buxton (another new resident at the Manor of Groves) donated a billiard table to the newly formed men’s club.
As the twenties roll into the thirties, forties, fifties and onwards, the Hall continues to be a focal point of village life. The Hockey Club and Cricket Club organize dances. The WI organizes its monthly meetings. The Hall was also used as a canteen for the children of High Wych School. Until the early seventies school dinners were prepared in the kitchen and served in the Hall itself. Those who were there remember hard folding chairs and splinters in backsides!
During the Second World War, High Wych Memorial Hall provided services for the women working in the Land Army. Dinners were often prepared and served for them there. Whist drives were organized as well as dances when locals and visiting members of the armed services jitterbugged to the music of Jay Dimmock and his band, a 5 piece combo from Hoddesdon. Some twenty years later that same Jay Dimmock gave a teenage Cliff Richard his first chance to sing. That happened in Cheshunt though, not High Wych!
The post war years are mainly remembered for two people : Arthur Clow and Michael Elsdon. Arthur Clow who served from 1939 until 1969, was caretaker, treasurer, booking secretary and secretary rolled into one. Those who wanted to hire the hall went to see him, paid the money, got the keys and got on with it. Mike Elsdon, a young mechanical engineer who worked at Holbrooks came to High Wych in 1940. Immediately he became involved in local affairs including the Village Hall. In 69 Len Helmer (yes him again) proposed Mike Elsdon become chairman and the Hall Committee was put on a more formal footing. Most importantly preparations were started for an extension of the Hall. Mr Bob Springham, a young local architect, offered his services and produced the necessary drawings and a model. All that was needed now was the money!!!
High Wych Memorial Hall in 1965 One of Bob Springham’s sketches for the new Hall
Over the next months and years Mike Elsdon leads his committee in a frenzy of fundraising and discussions on planning and finance. Some of you may recall an embroidered picture in the Hall (made by committee member Grace Dunn) showing the signatures of people who donated money to the project. Our one hundred club was also started around that time. In the end total costs of the project came close to £ 20.000, a big sum for those days. Luckily some financial assistance was provided by the local council. By the summer of 1973 a formal dedication ceremony was held. See copied article from the Herts & Essex Observer on the facing page.
1970: Grace Dunn does her embroidery 1973 – The New Hall is revealed
In 1972 Jack Balaam joined the Hall Committee. Whilst he was not in the same vein as Arthur Clow, he did for many years serve as the first point of call for those wanting to hire the Hall. Jack, who served as both treasurer and booking secretary was on the committee for many years until his untimely death in 1991. Many still remember him with admiration and affection. Mike Elsdon stayed on as chairman until 1976 when he was succeeded by L.J. Hibbs who was followed by Charles Wentworth Stanley who served until the early nineties when the author of this article (who he?) took over. Through all those years, in fact until 1995, Mike Elsdon stayed on the committee giving us the benefit of his experience.
It was during my own term of office, which lasted until the late nineties, that Pam and Bob Giles joined the Hall Committee. It is surely safe to say that Pam and Bob are now as closely associated with High Wych Memorial Hall as Arthur Clow and Jack Balaam once were. Meanwhile, Mandy Reynolds took over from yours truly as Committee Chair. She was followed by Paul Stephenson who has now been at the reins for some six years.
Monday 24th February 2014 Councillor David Saunders buys stamps at the newly opened HWMH post offfice
Through all those years the Hall has continued to play an important role in HW village life. Activities include Karate, Scottish Dancing and Tai Chi. The Women’s Institute and the Ladies group continue to use the Hall whilst recently a weekly Internet Café was started. Finally, from Monday 24th February the Hall will host an outreach post office.
Yes, times have moved on. High Wych has changed from little more than a hamlet to something approaching suburbia, regrettable that may be but that is life! And what do I personally recall most from my time on the Hall Committee? It was an occasion when we were trying to stamp out commercial hirings, that is to say prevent the Hall being hired for “private parties”, which were but a cover for profit making ventures. When questioned, a culprit claimed their party was held “to celebrate our aunt’s successful hysterectomy operation”
Those who want to know more, or even book the Hall can visit highwychmemorialhall.com
Information for this article mainly comes from my own “short and incomplete history of High Wych Memorial Hall” Two pictures were lifted from the Hall website.
The Hall as it is today
We stay in the centre of High Wych for this article and look at Helmer’s yard and the white cottages. Helmer’s Yard is of course so named after Len Helmer, a builder, local politician and entrepreneur.
Leonard Alfred Helmer, was born in 1912 in High Wych, the son of Charles and Alice Helmer. Len’s father and grandfather were both gardeners and born in our village. The family, Charles, Alice, Len and his brother Bert, lived in Woodside Cottages along High Wych Lane. Len went to the village school and trained as a carpenter with Nelson Lawrence. He became a Clerk of Works there and in 1935 joined forces with William (Bill) Dyer, a bricklayer from Sawbridgeworth. Initially their workshop was at the back of Dixon’s garage. In 1938 he married Elsie Hills, at that time a nurse maid with the Wentworth-Stanley family.
Helmer & Dyer soon becomes the local builder of choice. The first houses they built were both on High Wych Road: Millfields for “Baker White” and Broad Oak for James Dixon. There are many H&D built houses around these parts. I myself live in one as does my neighbour Den Lomax. The second half of the thirties was indeed a very good time for house building. It is remarkable how many houses Bill and Len, who were only in their twenties then, built in those early days. One of the secrets of H&D’s success was perhaps that, contrary to current practice, many trade tasks were performed “in house”. So H&D employees came in all sorts: carpenters, joiners, painters, plasterers, bricklayers, a sign writer even: Frank Fish. I talked to two former employees who spent their entire working lives at H&D. Percy Peacock was a painter and decorator who joined in 1943 following his dad who also worked there. Alec Rainbird, a plumber, joined a year later. H&D and its customers could depend on a loyal and capable workforce.
Len Helmer Eric Willson Bill White, Ray Collins and Paul Mercer in H&D’s Joinery workshop
During the 2nd world war H&D became involved with repairing bomb damage. Sometimes two trucks with twenty men each on them went to London in order to clear rubble from East End Bomb sites and do quick makeshift repairs to make the houses more or less habitable again. Improvisational skills were needed: “we learnt a lot in those days” Percy told me.
After 1945 the company bit by bit moved its operations from the original site to what is now Helmers Yard. Meanwhile more and more building work was undertaken. Mansfield, East Park, Brook Road and Falconers are some of the estates that were built. An award was won for an estate in Dunmow. Another important project was the breaking up of the runways at the USAF base at Matching, where Len had been clerk of works during the war. This took several years. Hard core extracted from Matching could then be used for building purposes in Harlow New Town: another happy coincidence.
Over the years Bill Dyer took more of a background role whilst Len Helmer became a local VIP. According to all I spoke to, Leonard Helmer was a charming, persuasive and very successful man, larger than life some would say. His contacts as a local councillor must have stood him in good stead. Between 1949 and 1974 Len Helmer served on Braughing Rural Council; for seven years he was its chairman. Between 1970 and 1974 he represented Sawbridgeworth, the Hadhams and High Wych on Hertfordshire County Council. He was chairman of High Wych Parish Council and a magistrate.
On 28th April 1951 fire breaks out in the white cottages, used upstairs to store plumbing supplies whilst downstairs cement etc. was kept. Due to lack of water pressure the Fire Brigade has great trouble coping. Water has to be brought in from ponds at the Manor of Groves. Subsequently the roof is re-thatched with reed and the building refurbished as offices. The Parish Council starts a campaign for a better water main. Helmer’s Yard meanwhile also plays host to other small businesses Andrews Heating bases itself there as does Engineering Prototype Ltd., a company manufacturing plastic mouldings started by my late father in law Mike Elsdon.
In 1963 Len Helmer married for the second time: to Hilda Sutton. By 1965 H&D employs about 100 people. In December of that year a party is held to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary and also to mark Bill Dyer’s retirement. In 1967 Jon Smylie joins the company Jon, quickly rises through the ranks and soon becomes Len Helmer’s second in command.
Len & Hilda’s marriage in 1963 – note LH’s mother and best man Alfred Mabey
Len Helmer passed away in 1976. By that time Jon Smylie had already acquired a minority share in the business. The company then carries on under his management and with Len Helmer’s widow Hilda in the background. After Hilda dies in 1997 John Smylie then takes on full ownership. This situation continues until 2006 when H&D is sold and moved to Ware. But the new owners do not make a success of it. In January 2008 the London Gazette publishes an insolvency notice: H&D is bankrupt. Jon Smylie meanwhile continues as owner of the Yard and landlord of companies such as P&R Travel and Willis Architectural Ironmongery.
Thanks this time go to Jill Clark, Roger Kempthorne, Percy Peacock, Alec Rainbird, Bob Springham, Jon Smylie and Eric Willison.
Right in the centre of our village opposite the Curatage (formerly Wych Croft) and the Pink Cottages now stands the small housing development of Blacksmiths Way. No prizes to be won for guessing why it is thus named!
Indeed from the early eighteen hundreds until about 1920 a Blacksmith’s Forge stood on that site. When exactly Joseph Smith, born in 1802 in Sawbridgeworth, started his business in High Wych is not certain. The 1839 Tithe map, however, shows Joseph as occupying plot 484 (next door to 485 – the Half Moon Public House). The plot was owned at the time by the trustees of Thomas Nathaniel Williams who also owned the Manor of Groves. Two years later, at the 1841 census, Joseph is registered as a Blacksmith and living with his wife Jane, sons Charles, Joseph and Samuel plus daughters Jane and Julia.
Ten years later Joseph Smith Sr. is still there whilst his wife is registered as a grocer. Sons Charles and Samuel are also registered as Blacksmith. Joseph Jr., born in 1830, lives next door with his wife, confusingly also called Jane who is 15 years his senior. Joseph and Jane have a 9 months old daughter: Emily. Also living with them are 4 “sons in law” and 2 “daughters in law”, all with the surname Brace. I believe this to be a mistake. The Brace children must have been Joseph’s step children and Jane’s children from an earlier marriage,
By 1861 Joseph Jr. and his wife have 4 more children, one of which, another Charles, born in 1860 grows up to join the family business, which he will then carry on for many years. Charles marries Annie Wilson and they have ten children. One of the girls, Elsie, later marries Arthur Sapsford, the manager of Rivers Nurseries. Another, Emily, marries Arthur (Duchy) Ward with whom she manages the village shop and post office. After Duchy’s death Emily marries Arthur Lindsell and as Mrs. Lindsell she continued at that shop until the early nineteen sixties. Some of you may well remember her.
1900: Charles Smith in front of his cottage 1910: HW Green with blacksmiths forge
Kelly’s directory of 1914 still lists Charles Smith as HW blacksmith. What happens after is unclear. Census results after 1911 are not publicly accessible and the Kelly directories do not mention Charles Smith any more.
Now fast forward eleven years to 1925 when retired Stortford Grocer James Dixon buys the Blacksmith’s forge and cottage. James, nicknamed ”spouf” due to his habit of puffing out his cheeks as he spoke, starts a one man taxi company, bicycle and farm equipment repair business which develops into a garage. The taxi became a familiar sight around the area evidenced by the fact that even now people remember its license number : AKX 100. In 1931 James’s son Richard, better known as Roy enters the business and it is under his stewardship that Dixon’s Garage became the commercial hub of the village.
Around 1931 the Dixons also started selling petrol. The brand was called Cleveland; it was initially delivered in cans and sold for one shilling one pence a gallon (just over 5 p). Roy recalled how, as a boy, he cycled to school and delivered cans of petrol to Mr. Mabey the headmaster. Another early customer was local builder Len Helmer. Proper petrol pumps soon arrived. Roy’s sister Alice was also active in the company. See below for a nice picture of her “at the pumps”.
From the thirties to the eighties: Dixon’s Garage.
Roy spent the war years repairing bombers at Marshalls of Cambridge. It was there that he met his wife Sybil. He was also in the Home Guard. In February 1947 Roy and Sybil were married. In December of that same year their son Richard was born. In 1950 father James died. The garage meanwhile expanded with a Ford franchise added in 1953 and a showroom built. In 1957 a second son was born: David.
Roy and Sybil Dixon – Alice Dixon at the pumps
The company grew further still: a Reliant franchise was acquired; the Scimitar being a popular model. Filmstar Rita Tushingham bought a honey coloured one in 1969 and was pictured with it in front of the show room. A Wartburg franchise was added in 1968 and one for Mazda in 1970. Personal care was what Roy and his staff prided themselves on. Dixons had its own paint shop, bodywork shop and even its own carpentry unit, initially shared with Helmer & Dyer Thus it was that they even manufactured a bespoke milk float; Priscilla the model was called and it was based on a Ford chassis. Roy Dixon acquired another dealership in Sudbury (Suffolk) and started a Reliant wholesale parts operation in Harlow from a 1 acre site with a purpose built warehousing operation. A new showroom was added to this site in 1979 selling Citroen and Fiat. At the height of success around this time they employed around 50 staff across those 3 locations.
1968: Roy Dixon wins a Wartburg franchise
1969: Rita Tushingham at Dixon’s – Dixon’s headed paper.
In the late seventies however the business started to struggle. Perhaps they had over reached themselves. Large increases in interest rates coupled with a slump in demand made things very difficult. Then in 1982 the business finally failed. The site was then sold to a developer who in deed did build the present Blacksmiths Way houses.
Thanks this time go to David and Richard Dixon, Colin Jackson, Wendy Oxborough, the Herts and Essex Observer and as always those nice folk at Hertfordshire Archives and Library Services. And do not forget these articles would be impossible without your contributions, your memories, stories and photographs. Keep them coming; please get in touch!! Contact me at: email@example.com or phone me at 01279 725468.
As I write these words, in February 2014, High Wych has only one shop and no post office. This was not always so. At the time of the 1841 census George Patmore of High Wych described himself as a grocer and beer retailer. Patmore was based at what is now the Rising Sun pub. By the 1851 census Jane Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, the blacksmith was also registered as a grocer. Another name that I found mentioned is that of William Ward who in 1891 and 1901 was referred to as a hawker and a shopkeeper.
The Wards and the Smiths coexisted for a while. Father And son, “Daddy” and “Duchy”, ran a horse drawn delivery service for groceries and other goods to outlining villages over a wide radius. The story goes that having been refreshed at several hostelries en route, the driver would fall asleep after his last call and leave the horse to find his own way home. Duchy, William Jr that is, married Emily Smith one of the ten children of Charles Smith the last High Wych Blacksmith. It was said to be a marriage of mutual convenience. “He wanted a house keeper, she wanted a shop”.
There was also a dairy which was based at Bakers Farm and of course a bakery headed by Baker White who some may still remember. Groceries were also sold by the Tyser sisters, who had followed Patmore in the Rising Sun, in the last quarter of the 19th century. Steve Prior thinks the shop was a single story extension on the left hand side of the building accessed by the left hand door. The business probably stopped trading by 1929. Fishmongers also called round.
Daddy and Duch Ward
The original shop, as is shown on two of the photographs below, was situated in what is now number 7 Half Moon Cottages. The Post Office was also situated there. For most of the time it was managed by one and the same person: Emily Smith who became Emily Ward and upon Duchy’s death and her subsequent marriage to Arthur Lindsell became Mrs. Lindsell. She stayed in charge until 1963 when Bill and Kath Springham took over. They ran the “Cottage Stores” until the early seventies.
Early 1900s – on the left: “baker white” – Emily Lindsell in the 1950s
For most of us though the Village Shop is connected with the name Camp. When In 1952 Mr. Lindsell, the sub post master died, his widow, Mrs. Lindsell, preferred to continue the business just as a sweet shop. For a period afterwards the Post Office then operated from the Village Hall on a part time basis. In 1953 William and Mary Camp purchased a strip of land adjacent to their “Dovedale”. Bungalow. Originally it was known as “The Willows” owing to the row of willow trees along its length.
1955: Fred Puncher and J. Stevens and their dairy van – 1965: the Springham’s Cottage Stores
Shortly afterwards the Camps applied to the Post Office for a licence. In April 1954 Mary started serving customers from the front door of the bungalow. At first, the Camp’s daughters believe, it was only 2 days a week as it had been in the village hall. While this was going on, planning permission was obtained and a small building was constructed on the strip of land that they had purchased. The building was in fact no more than one quarter of the size of the present building, maybe even smaller than that.
Right from the beginning it was an enormous success. The people of the village were so pleased to have a shop and post office again that they queued up to buy there. Soon it was realised that the tiny building was not going to be big enough for either the stock required or the customers, so only a year later William and Mary started to think about how they could expand the shop to meet the need. It was probably a couple of years before they managed to acquire the funds, but they then doubled the size of the shop.
High Wych Village Shop was a true family business. As soon as they were old enough daughters Heather and Rosalyn started helping out. Aged 16 and 15 they even took over for a week enabling Mum and Dad to go on holiday. On Friday nights the whole family sat down to do the books.
Those were the days before supermarkets, when most people still did not have cars. Many villagers really did most of their shopping with the Camps. Cheese and meat was cut to order and the skill was to try and get it as near the required amount as possible as it was really hard to work out how much it should cost if it was slightly under or over. HW resident Jean Pedder (now 83) remembers buying ham at Christmas time and how the meat slicer was used.
Interesting people came to the shop. Miss Morris would wait outside astride her horse. One had to go out to collect her shopping list and return with the items – plus a packet of polo mints for the horse. A certain gentleman had such dirty hands one was loathe to take his money. Miss Valentine Fane in her old Humber car full of cardboard boxes would call to post strange smelling parcels possibly containing pheasants that had been well hung! An elderly lady more than once came for her pension in her nighty. Heather or Rosalyn were then asked to take her safely home to High Wych Lane. Italian immigrants working at Actons and not having a good command of English came by with letters and forms which William had to read out.
1965: Trevor Helmer in front of the shop
The store provided many house hold items, provisions, frozen foods, vegetables and, in late October, early November even fireworks. The sale of sanitary towels posed particular problems in the early days. Firstly, ladies would always wait for a female to serve them. Then, the items were kept out of view, so Heather or Rosalyn had to go ‘out the back’ to ask their dad where they were, then wait for him to wrap them in a brown paper bag for the girls to take discreetly back to the customer.
In 1963 a Sainsbury supermarket was opened in Harlow. That shop and others like it took away a lot of custom. Still the shop continued to thrive and in 1975 it was even extended again with the frontage being doubled. Two years later, in 1977 William Camp closed the shop and Bert Thorpe became the tenant. In the nineties Mike Ellis took over.
The Camp daughters continue their tale:
For many years prices were very stable and you could ask Dad the price of anything in the shop and he would know it. Later when inflation began to be a problem, prices changed so quickly that he could no longer do that. I can also remember the first time someone stole something from the shop. It had never happened before, and then one day a box of pens went missing. At first Dad couldn’t work out what had happened as it was unheard of for people to steal. Unfortunately, after that it happened quite often and we had to be on our guard so people didn’t have the opportunity to steal.”
I remember 3 burglaries always the thieves were after cigarettes, always they happened at night. The first time they successfully broke in through the front door, no bars in those days. The next time they made the mistake of taking some Cadbury’s cream eggs on their way out, then calling at Dixon’s garage on the way passed and dropping some out of the car onto the forecourt this was seen by Roy Dixon on his way home from a late night party and guessing where they had got them he called the police and they were caught. The last I remember was after the grills were fitted and they unsuccessfully attempted to break in via the roof.”
By the time Bert Thorpe and Mike Ellis had taken over, thefts, burglaries and even hold ups had occurred a number of times. One such occasion happened in 2003 and my own neighbor, the late Ede Lomax was involved. The robber demanded money and it is thought he waved a gun about. Mike, who had been held up once before, told the man he would give him the money. Ede,76 at the time and made of sterner stuff told Mike he should refuse upon which she herself got threatened. Her reaction: “All right then, shoot me if you must”. The robber got away with the money and Ede, Mike and a child who was also there, with just a fright.
When In 2010 Mike Ellis sold the business on to Diogo Fernandes, all seemed normal. Diogo, sometimes assisted by part timers worked in the shop whilst Rob Ambrose, his employee, worked behind the counter at the post office. Business wasn’t roaring but it ticked along. Until one day in February 2012 when the postal authorities came around for an audit and discovered a shortfall of close to £ 40.000. Rob held up his hands and confessed to having defrauded the GPO of that amount. The Post Office subsequently closed the branch and took away the license from Diogo in whose name it was registered.
Months of confusion followed. The Post Office maintained officially that they wanted to keep their High Wych branch open but somehow seemed to hold the licensee responsible. Diogo, now being left with a business without the beneficial effect of a sub post office on the premise decided to close and found himself “a regular job”. A petition to the postal authorities remained without success. For a few weeks it seemed as if High Wych would have neither a post office nor a shop.
Still, on Monday 11th June, High Wych shop opens its doors once again. Diogo’s dad. Assis, a retired city worker hailing from Goa had taken over the reins. The shop was restocked. Assis also applied for the post office license, but this proved difficult. The postal authorities just seemed to set the bar that little bit too high. Payment was to be on commission, not through a salary. It was even suggested the post office open on a Sunday. It made you wonder whether they were really interested in ensuring good postal services in our village. Letters to the local paper, nor intervention by councilors such as Mike Carver or Roger Beeching seemed to help. In November 2012 the case against Rob Ambrose finally came to court. He received a six months suspended sentence.
Assis Fernandes meanwhile, was (and is) serious about the shop. He bought the freehold of the shop from the Camp daughters. In February 2013 a number of us were invited for a grand opening. The Fernandes family, Assis and his son Alex are here to stay. They now own the lease. “Let’s lend them our support Roger Beeching wrote a year ago.” It seems to have worked. As its stands at the time of writing the Post Office will not come back to the shop and instead is considering offering a part time service from the green room at the Memorial Hall. Despite all that the shop is doing well. Father and son Fernandes are doing well. High Wych village stores are thriving once again.
2013: Assis Fernades behind the counter of his shop.
Information for this article was drawn from the writings of the late John Sapsford as well as from Andrew Elsdon, Assis and Alex Fernandes, Den Lomax Lily Mynott, Jean Pedder, Steve Prior, Rosalyn Reed, Heather Smith and Eric Willison. Help was also given by the staff at HALS, Hertfordshire Archive and Library Services.
Let me tell you about the Rising Sun, our only remaining village pub. How old is that hostelry? My honest answer is that I do not know. An indenture or document of sale on show at in the pub is dated 1864. County archives have similar documents dated 1827 and 1847. One name mentioned there is that of John Patmore of High Wych another, Daniel Brown of Ware. The latter has a connection with the White Heart Inn, original home of the “Great Bed of Ware” now on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In the 1860s the Tyser family took up residence in the Rising Sun. They described themselves as beer retailers and bakers, a very common combination. The Kelly directories mention James Tyser in 1862 and 1869, Joseph Tyser in 1874, 1878 and 1890, William Tyser in 1895 and finally from 1902 onwards until at least 1919 Susan Tyser. In the 1920s “Baker White” was in charge He may have been the last one to combine bakery with beer retailing. In 1929 William Oakley and his family moved in whilst Fred White remained as baker. In 1943, 14 years later Iris Oakley married Sid Puncher.
A picture of the Rising Sun from the early fifties.
That name, Sid Puncher will of course be familiar to many. Originally he worked for his father’s coal merchants business, occasionally making his cart available to people who were moving house. Upon his marriage to Iris he moved into the Rising Sun. When in 1957 on William Oakley’s death the licence passed to Iris Sid started spending more and more time at the pub particularly helping out with the heavy work of handling the casks. For many years though he carried on doing other jobs such as gardening at the Manor of Groves and driving a school bus for handicapped children. Strange though it seems, Sid Puncher himself never held the licence. Until their retirement in 1987 the licence was held by Iris.
Iris and Sid in their glory days
By the early 1970s the Rising Sun was one of only a handful of pubs in East Herts and West Essex still serving real ale and the only one to serve it by gravity dispense. I myself can still remember seeing Sid Puncher bend down for every single pint! People travelled for miles to sample his beautifully kept best bitter. So it was no wonder that CAMRA, the campaign for real ale started its local branch in High Wych Village Hall directly opposite the Rising Sun. Chris Bruton, CAMRA’s national chairman at the time came down for the occasion and Sid provided three firkins of ale which all went.
Sid’s reputation as a character was well deserved. Steve Prior, who took over in 1987 tells me “Sid in later years never turned the outside lights of the pub on. That would only encourage passing trade as they would be people he didn’t know. It was probably more to do with the electric bill as he was renowned for being careful”
Once when the Brewery surveyor was doing an inspection of the premises he asked Sid about the lack of washing facilities as there was no toilet/basin upstairs and just a butler sink by the back door. Sid told him he washed standing at the sink and the draught from the back door dried him off.
Sid behind the bar – looking around the corner: son John
A few years after taking over the pub Steve was replacing one of the floors upstairs and came down for a lunchtime pint. Sid was in the bar and asked him what he was up to. He then explained that many years previous he had dropped a half crown in the bedroom and it had gone beneath the floorboards. Steve said he’d keep an eye out. “Sure enough I later found it exactly where he said it would be. I never did give it back and still have it stashed away somewhere.”
A final Sid story from Steve: “After Mrs. Oliver (the village police man’s wife) died I was round at the police house by the school with her son going through some of Jack Oliver’s old bits and pieces. Later when I saw Sid he asked me if we had come across the rabbit nets Jack had confiscated from Sid when he had caught him poaching. That must have been decades previous but he had never forgotten. I think he figured Jack had been using them himself for all those years.”
Steve did make some minor changes to the Rising Sun after Sid Puncher left. The little tables for instance on which the casks rested were heightened so that the barman did not have to bend down so low for every pint.
Nowadays Gary Cunningham, stands behind the taps at the Rising Sun. The interior has changed quite a lot since Sid’s days. One thing however has not changed: the quality of the beer. I can personally vouch for that. Meanwhile, Sid’s (as it is still called by many) while still features in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.
On the 2th March 2013 our very own Rising Sun was once again voted CAMRA’s Pub of the year. Brendon Sothcott, that organisation’s branch chairman, came down for the presentation and noted that there were no less than seven different beers on tap. “Amongst the nearly 200 pubs in the areas, there were several outstanding ones but the Rising Sun has once again won the contest by a clear margin”. Twice before the Rising Sun has won the honour, once under the old regime and once in 2009. A happy Gary Cunningham told “Pints of View” CAMRA’s newsletter that he was putting in a kitchen so that “we can do food to compliment the beer, not to turn the place into a smart restaurant”.
The above article is partially based on Tom Coppack “Loss of a local legend” published by CAMRA and “the Local” an article from the Herts & Essex Observer from the early eighties. Articles and photographs were supplied by Celia Puncher (Sid and Iris’s daughter) and as mentioned, the editors of “Pints of View”. Stephen Prior provided those wonderful stories.
The Rising Sun today
The idea for these articles came about after having seen the exhibition at the school in 2011 to commemorate their 150th anniversary. An excellent book was published on the occasion and I thank Mandy West and Lorraine Winser for their efforts and their encouragement. Then, in early 2012 I was allowed to look at a scrapbook from 1965. That scrapbook was produced by members of the HW Women’s Institute on the occasion of their golden jubilee. It provides a fascinating view on how we lived nearly 50 years ago.
In 1965 the population of our Parish stood at 629 and there were 253 rated properties. There were two pubs, now there is only one. There were two shops. Likewise, there now is only one. The two largest houses, then as now, were the Manor of Groves, now a hotel and the Grange, originally the vicarage; in 1965, the home of the Wentworth Stanley family and still a private residence. Helmer & Dyer, the builders, Dixon’s Garage and Andrew’s Heating provided local employment. There was no street lighting. A proposal to install 15 lights was put forward but not decided upon as only four members of the Parish Council attended the relevant meeting.
The scrapbook tells of meetings of the WI of course, of the Young Wives Group and of other organisations. One such was the “Silver Lining Club”, the flourishing over sixties organisation which has since folded and which organised monthly meetings, outings and holidays for its members. There are pictures and reports of weddings and births, of fairs organised by the school and the scouts of the harvest supper. On the “dark side” burglaries at the Manor of Groves and at Crumps Farm are mentioned.
Most impressively in 1965 High Wych did once again win the best kept village of Hertfordshire competition. Our village scored 100 points, the highest possible number of marks.
Leafing through the scrapbook makes one feel more than a little bit nostalgic,sad even at the loss of community spirit and togetherness. Nowadays it seems we are but another commuter village for people who work elsewhere and whose social life has little to do with our immediate neighbours. Luckily we still have our church, our school, our one shop, our one pub and our memorial hall not to mention organisations such as the Garden Club and the WI.