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Interview 2 with Male Born Early 1918
Born in Yardley Gobion on 30 January 1918. Lived at Yardley Gobion until 1933, then I went to Cosgrove and lived there until 1984, so I've lived here since then which is 9 years, I think.

Q: So you lived at Cosgrove for quite a long time?


Where abouts in Cosgorve did you live - were you close to the canal?

Right next to the Church, well, you couldn't be far away from the canal could you!

You'd have a job to be much further away!

Well, I mean, you was living on the canal wherever you was in Cosgrove, either underneath it or on top of it!

Q: So, what can you remember of the canal?

A: Well, do you want the old canal, the new canal?

You tell me. Tell me about the old canal first of all.

Well, I mean the canal at Yardley Gobion, I remember that when we used to have some winters then. It was that froze up that several times they had to have the tugs from out of the Thames to try and break up the ice. At one time, I forget what year it was, but it would be mid 20's I should think, us kids we were all playing out, actually I nearly lost my life when I was about 10 or 11, I think it were, I fell in under a bridge hole when we were blackberrying, fortunately for me a kid who was much younger than me grabbed the post holding the barbed wire and he grabbed me and we managed to scramble out. I dropped my basket in the water.

Q: What can you remember about the boating on the canal in Yardley Gobion?

Well, I mean in those days it was very busy, and it was horses then, there was tons of blackberries, and you went blackberrying along there, and when the horses come along you had to squeeze into the hedge to get out the way, but there were hundreds of boats really.

Q: Can you remember any boats in particular, ones you saw very often?

Well, there was always Fellers Morton and Claydon, they was going all the while, then later on there was the Wanders, the Ovaltine, then Sammy Barlow, I think they was mostly coal. Then of course eventually when I lived at Cosgrove I worked at the timber yard at Old Wolverton, and we had all their timber by boat. Very often we had about six boats tied up at a time, so that was a very strenuous time, because of course in those days they didn't do it by road because it was so much handling all the while, of course now it's the same again, but just the opposite.

Q: What were the boats like, how were they kept, dirty or clean?

A: Well, it's a case of like the present day, but it was other people. I mean we got one old bloke who used to bring the timber to us, they called him "Soapy Joe", the obvious reason they called him Soapy was because he'd never seen any!! He had a very large family, an' well, they slept on top of the timber I think the kids, there were so many of them because they'd never get in the cabin.

Q: How many kids did he have?

A: Oh, I can't remember that, I mean there were swarms of them.

Q: What about the horses, were they well cared for?

A: Well, yeah, I think they was very well cared for because after all the boatie had to rely on them for their living, didn't they, and you see every village had a place for them to stop the night, you know the horses, because Yardley Gobion where I was, of course the wharf was at the time I lived there they was dumping all the stones for the roads, and everything else in the early days, but I mean that was how the road stone come.

Q: Can you remember any other particular boat men?

Well, no not really. I mean, later on I knew quite a lot of them, because some of them actually come to live at Cosgrove eventually, and some still live at Cosgrove, the young boys that come off the boats.

Q: Let's move on to Cosgrove, either canal the Grand Union. What do you remember of the canal at Cosgrove?

A: Well, the Grand Union, again that was very bad when winter came when we did have a bad winter, because there was dozens and dozens of boats all tied up along either side of the locks. Well, now of course, I gather there are lots of pleasure boats, well not pleasure boats, various people live on them I think along there, although I've never been along to the trunk, from Cosgrove way for a long while, but I know there's a lot along there, and along the Buckingham Arm - they have a park there a marina I suppose you call it, but what I remember about the canal along the Buckingham Arm of course, I used to work at the Hall, which is that big house you look up from the canal to there. I worked there from when I left school until I went in the Forces, and of course you was always near the canal and we used to go for walks down there and down the spinney there at various times, and as I was saying earlier tonight, there is a very good nature place for various wild things, the pink water lilies and lots of irises, and water bobbles as we call them. Of course, birds, moorhens and coots and things like that. But it was a regular walk there for people from Wolverton or Stony Stratford and very often they'd come to Cosgrove because they have three pubs over there and walk back that way. We used to go blackberrying, and all the rest of it.

Q: You mentioned the locks at Cosgrove. How many locks were there?

A: Only the two there always, but if you go along there, you see I worked at the timber yard, well at the time they put the overflow (or the overshot) to get rid of water from Wolverton, because Wolverton was flooded after they got all these other streets, they put this overshot in down by the timber yard and they dug the drain down where the old locks used to go through the river, and they found all the locks as they dug down there digging them out, so of course we went down there to have a look at them at the time.

Q: What did you see?

A: Well, you just see the wooden part that was left in the ground where they used to be. I tend to be a little bit interested in local history. But I often wondered how the canal did when it went through the river, they must have cut a ditch through there but when the water was very low it must have entered the cuttings.

I think there were problems.

You see that ... I borrowed that from the library about a month ago and it tells you there the Oxford canal still goes through a river. But I thought it was in flood unless they got locks on both sides of the river as well, it would be a job to get across it.

Q: What do you remember of the two locks at Cosgrove? The ones that are there now.

A: They are the only two I know. I've seen them emptied when they've have to put new paddles in or change the lock gates and all the rest of it. There was a big swing bridge there as I guess you know, and the boats used to go to Deanshanger, they're the only ones I knew, Deanshanger and Old Stratford. They did go to Buckingham I suppose.

Q: Tell me about the Swing Bridge, what was that like?

A: Well, it was a huge iron affair. It was hard work to swing over. I'd seen a boat go down there, well it was about 6 ft wide I suppose all metal, and then it swung straight across the canal.

Q: It swung across the Grand Union?

A: Yes, so that they come off that main towpath, onto the other one.

Q: So it was just above the lock?

A: Yeah, I don't know if you might be able to see it even know, or if they've altered the stone work, because where the bridge was there was a kind of stone where it went round onto, but I never took any notice of it really. But when we were kids I used to cycle across the fields and come across there and carry my bike over the locks, but the old chap who was at the locks then he was a canal workman, him and his wife were very hot because you had to pay half a crown a year, or sixpence every time you went along the canal. But you see I worked at Old Wolverton and so we cycled there and back four times a day. Of course you didn't have a licence in those days. But when I worked at the Hall I very often had to go across to Old Wolverton to Turneys Farm and I would come across that way back, but if you weren't careful the ol' girl would be out there waiting for you. It was a laugh really, because all the blokes - she'd come out she'd almost knock you off your bike if you didn't pay. Of course, if you were going to the pictures at Wolverton you'd usually bike that way as well, although it ruined your bike. It was just large stones, cut your tyres to ribbons, buckled your wheels.

Q: Can you remember the lock keeper's name?

A: Yeah, actually I do. It was Arthur Ashby, but I don't know what his wife's first name . Actually I know his granddaughter vaguely. She lives down at Southampton or somewhere and she occasionally comes bell ringing into Cosgrove, and my brother is the Captain of Cosgrove bell ringing. I was a bell ringer until I had these hips done. I don't no longer do it.

Q: You said you remember boats going up to Deanshanger. What were they carrying?

A: Well, they was just a pair probably, I forget if there were one or two horses. It was just two or three local coal merchants with the same name, it was Cambins. Cambins at Old Stratford and Cambins at Deanshanger, and actually I was talking to, I suppose it was the grandson of one of them last night at the canal lecture we had. I don't know whether you know Wetherwards at Deanshanger?

No, not exactly, I know roughly where they are.

Well, you know where they lower the bridge as you go to Wicken, well that house there used to be a coal merchants. I don't know whether the ditch is there, where the canal was, but they lowered the bridge, and now they've built all the houses on the left hand side. Then there was another one round at the other bridge/road, and then of course Cambins at Old Stratford, there is now a house built where the wharf was, and the coal yard is right on the road side.

Q: So they took coal to the oxide works?

A: No, I don't think so, it was just for the ordinary people, they might have took some to there, but they were just delivery people.

Q: Do you remember any boats bringing anything from the oxide works?

A: No, I don't know anything about that, in those days it wasn't the oxide works, the oxide works started at the outbreak of war. Actually, that was an ironworks, but then again that was Roberts's ironworks and I think that closed mid 20's, I'm not sure.

Yes, and there was a period when Deanshanger didn't have a big ...

No, that's right, I think it was derelict for a long while, because again I knew quite a few of the people who worked there because they were bell ringers. Normally, I think, it is possible that coal was taken to the ironworks by boat, but I wouldn't know anything about that because I think it might have been when I wouldn't have been old enough to have taken any notice in those days, although I knew the canal from the very early 20's, because I used to ride about on my dad's crossbar when he went bell ringing. Remember the old swing bridges when you could hang on the weights and lift it up.

Q: Did you do that?

A: Well, I didn't, but if I'd be sitting on my dad's shoulder I'd play about, because we went along that way quite a lot because we'd go bell ringing at Wicken and Passenham, that was when we lived at Yardley Gobion. We went everywhere. I started going as soon as I was old enough to ride on the crossbar like my brother did.

Q: Can you remember people talking about the Buckingham Canal, how it used to be? Can you remember anybody older than yourself talking about the way Bucks Canal used to be when the boats went further?

A: No, I can't remember anything about that. The only thing I can remember is like when this one went to Deanshanger, there was an old bloke from Deanshanger who was, well a bit on the simple side, well again we'd known him all our lives, because he used to claim to be a chimney sweep, general carrier and pig killer. That is the truth! He had a box on two wheels, about 3 ft long, 2 ft 6 " deep or something like that. He got it all painted up and sign written with his name and he walked miles going round chimney sweeping or carrier. He used to come over to Cosgrove when the boat would come and he would wait by the locks and help them with the boat, because of course at the time the latter part, well 30's, the canal was really bunged up with weed, and I gather it was a helluva job to get through, so they took them a long while.

Q: Did he hitch a ride?

A: No, I think they'd ask him to go and help them. Whether he had to try and make the horse go or not, I don't know. I see him there quite a lot as I used to have to go to Old Wolverton from the house to fetch a chicken or something like that. He was a rare character. As a matter of fact somebody asked if anyone had a photo of him, but nobody had. If anyone was interested in taking a photo of him, it would have made a bit of history.

Q: When did you last go to the Buckingham Canal?

A: Well, I've never been up there since, well we used to take the Cubs at Deanshanger, how long ago would that be, 12/14 years ago, before they altered the road. No I can't really say. Must have been at least 14 years ago, we walked from Deanshanger Buckingham Road up to Thornton. Somebody took us up, and we went up the canal which was then just a ditch, but I did notice a large length of it had concrete sides to it. We walked from there, Mount Mill Farm to Thornton.

Q: Do you remember the bridge at Mount Mill Farm?

A: Yeah, I suppose I must have done. Quite frankly time has gone by.

Q: Did you ever walk beyond Thornton through the lock?

A: No, I've not been any further. I have been through to Thornborough, and I have been down that road, and Thornborough Mill was pointed out to us. There's a wharf there as well, they run pretty close together That was when I was reasonably young I suppose.

Q: Do you remember seeing any boats on it?

A: No. I don't know that I saw the canal at Buckingham, but then again I wasn't very familiar with Buckingham, other than the Church area.

Q: Do you remember anything about the canal in Old Stratford?

A: Yes, well they'd got a swing bridge there over that piece where the other boats come out when they're launched at Hays Wharf launching pad. I never did see any of the boats.

Q: Do you remember the Wharf at Old Stratford?

A: Well, only where they dropped the coal for Campins, that's on right hand side of council houses. They put the coal on the back and put it onto a large store on the road, so they loaded up from the road opposite where the shop was. The coal merchants has now been knocked down.

Q: Where there any buildings on the wharf?

A: No, I don't think so. Actually there wasn't a house except a wooden place, not sure if its still there. Of course out along Deanshanger there were four of these swing bridges.

Q: Can you remember any of the maintenance work on the bridges.

A: I don't know much about the maintenance of the Buckingham Arm, but the other canals I do. In the old days most of the villages had "length men" as they call them where there was one at Yardley, another chap from Stoke Bruerne, and most of the staff who did the maintenance they come from Roade and Stoke Bruerne area. I remember they did a lot of piling all along Cosgrove and the timberyard, driving wooden poles in to start with.

Q: Can you remember when that was?

A: Well, can't remember when they did the metal ones, probably after the war. Actually they did quite a strip of it as we eventually had a stacking area for putting timber on. Where the timber yard was is where the canal first branched off into the river. That is what they called a "Turning Hole" because it was very very wide.

Q: That's Jewsons now?

A: Yeah, The boss I worked for, he was the man who started it - it was Hickmans in those days. Him and another chap and eventually my brother and I worked there. I worked there after the war and then it changed hands.

Q: Did you ever ride on a canal boat?

A: Not a working one, but I've been through the tunnel at Blisworth.

Well, you've remembered a lot more than you thought you were going to. There's always something different that comes up.

If you were to park opposite the shop along the Buckingham Road you will see on right hand side some new houses directly after some little wooden bungalows and that is where the wharf and store were for the coal. The canal then was about 8 or 10ft above the road, and the road used to flood.

Well, thanks very much, anything else?

Well, during the bad winters when we cycled to work, the towpath always froze over and had ruts in it, so as soon as we were there, we rode along the canal to work. We took a chance, but still. We did that for quite a few weeks during the winter. Once there was 3" of snow and quite a number of people working at Wolverton going home for lunch for a hot meal. Of course, as soon as it froze during the night, we'd had it. On a lot of occasions they would always block the canal off for repairs along the iron trunk. One occasion I went with a friend of mine, we were walking along it. We had Wellingtons on, the bank was all slippy and we got stuck half way up. Of course we don't get the frost as we did then. It was very bad at times for the boaties because they had to earn a living.

Have you ever seen a manual operated ice breaker? It's a round boat, and its about 20 ft long. Its got solid top and a rail running the full length of it. Then there's about 14 or 15 men standing by rocking it, pulled by a horse. Actually, I think there's a picture in my book.

Q: Where did they keep the manual ice breaker?

A: Stoke Bruerne, I don't know, or Blisworth.

Well, thank you very much

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