Mrs Becher’s Diary

Mrs Bechers Diary

Mrs Becher’s Diary
Village Life in Tylers Green
1916 – 1938

Violet Isobel Becher (née Todd)
25.1.1886 – 14.7.1960

Transcribed by her grandson, Anthony Ainslie, 21/1/1995


Introduction

I enjoyed a local historian’s windfall recently when Christine Hathaway, a former neighbour, called with some neatly printed stories by Mrs Violet Becher of life in Tylers Green between 1916 and 1938, transcribed by her grandson M.P.A. Ainslie. I first came across Mrs Becher’s name when I was writing the history of St Margaret’s Church in 1983/84. She had also written a short but useful history up to 1936 and her name appears frequently in the records of the time.

Miles Green, Village Voice 53, Winter 1996


Stories – 1916-1938

The stories are handwritten in ink in notebooks and except for the two poems are not contemporaneous, but written in the late 1930’s, illustrating life in Buckinghamshire villages, fifteen and twenty years before.

The youngest of three children, V.I.B. was brought up in St Andrews, Fife in a house called Wayside, (built for her father by the Scottish architect Lorimer) and educated in St. Andrews at St Katharines, (1894-1899) and St Leonards (1899-1904 senior 1904-1907), where she excelled in sport.  A good watercolourist, she studied art firstly at the Chelsea Art College and later in Florence.  She married Maurice Andrew Noel Becher in St Andrews in 1912, honeymooning in Menton.  In 1913 they joined her husband’s battalion then stationed at Lucknow in India also staying during the hot weather at the hill station at Mussoorie. Her first daughter Frances Isobel was born in Lucknow on Tuesday the 16th of December 1913. Her husband a Captain in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers was killed in action at Gallipoli on April 26th 1915, attempting to bring back some of his battalion’s Indian muleteers who had become isolated outside a re-formed front line. Their second daughter, Anne Violet was born on Sunday the 26th of September 1915. V.I.B.’s father, Charles Edward Todd helped her buy an house, Claremont in New Road, Tylers Green, Buckinghamshire to which she moved in 1916; in 1918 she moved to Pitlundie in the same village and in 1937 to Barlows in Frieth. From Frieth she moved between late 1941 and early 1942 to Cherry Cottage, Stokenchurch, then about 1950 to Star Cottage, Lane End and finally in 1959 she built and moved to Middle Way House, Frieth where she died. She is buried in the upper cemetery of Hambleden Parish church.

Throughout her life she worked actively for the church, the W.I. and the Red Cross. She was a fine needlewoman and examples of her work are still in use in some churches in south Buckinghamshire.  She herself told a story, not included in the notebook, of a Colour guard from a K.O.S.B. battalion in France, bringing a shell damaged Colour to her in 1917, the guard camping on Penn village green, while she repaired the torn fabric.

The Col Arthur Becher referred to in the story of the Penny Bank Slate Club, lived in Hammersley Lane, Tylers Green and was the brother of V.I.B.’s father in law – General Becher. When young, Arthur Becher had been ADC to the Duke of Connaught, (one of Queen Victoria’s sons) and his wife Kate, Lady in Waiting to the Duchess. In his later years Col Becher is thought to have enjoyed the bottle (a Becher failing) and is remembered as ‘a dashing old dog’, fond of escorting a wealthy local lady – Editha Lancaster Rose. It may have been his residence in Tylers Green or that of V.I.B.’s second cousins the Soames, parents of Christopher and grandparents of Nicholas, who also lived there and were regular visitors, the children playing together; which brought V.I.B. from St Andrews to Buckinghamshire.

Mr Sugg, who ran the bus company mentioned in ‘To London Town’, prospered further, eventually buying both the manor and Lordship of Fingest.

Lord Dawson of Penn, who features in the tale of ‘The Bucks Enquiry’, was the well known physician to King George the V, ennobled for his services to the Crown and now thought to have hastened King George’s death in order to meet the deadline for the following morning’s ‘Times’.

Sources: M.P.A.A., A.V.B, F.I.T-W –  Anthony Ainslie, 21/1/1995


Tylers Green

It would be difficult for many of the people now living in the village to realize just how small a place Tylers Green was before the War. [1914-1918]. I came there in 1916 & excluding the Vicarage, there were but 4 people of substance living there.

The Vicar was serving as Chaplain to the navy but was at home for short periods. They were very poor financially & either picnicked in a couple of rooms in the house or lodged with Mrs Rolfe at Beechwood just opposite the Church. I remember walking up one morning from Claremont for an early service. As I passed Beechwood, Mrs Spencer put her head out of the upper window calling out to me that the Vicar was in bed & that there would be no service. She was dressed only in a frilly cotton nightdress & her coarse white hair was hanging all over her face. When he died I went along to offer my sympathy. She met me at the door with a stony & insolent stare, listened to my halting words & then showed me out saying she did not know what I had come for. The door slammed behind me.

During the Vicar’s absence with the fleet, we had relays of parsons to take duty!   One young curate of the type common to the comic stage was reported to have proposed marriage to Mrs Lancaster Rose. No doubt her riches & the luxury of her house appealed to him as being of use to the cause of the Church.  She used to tell the story of his undignified exit in her own inimitable way.

Another one was a German, (German Swiss he was described by the kind & tolerant). There was quite a crowd one Sunday morning at 8.0 a.m. & he passed so infinitesimal a moment as he turned with the invitation to the people, that we found ourselves repeating the second Our Father without anyone having left their seats.

Mr & Mrs Spencer were tragic failures, she was the wreck of a beautiful woman brought about by indulgence in what sd never be allowed in a woman – he was kindly and spruce to the last & I think that his religion was very real to him. What his sufferings were or perhaps their joint sufferings together, can only be partially imagined; but I think they must be held in extenuation over the last tragic years.

Two memories in connection with the Church come to my mind – which happened just after I came. It was Holy week & I took my little daughter to the advertised Children’s Service at 10.0 a.m. on Good Friday. After the bell had stopped ringing the Vicar came into the Church & as we two were the only congregation he told me that there would be no Service. Next morning I arrived with a few flowers to help with the Easter Decorations. I waited for quite a long time but no one came. Then Mr Spencer walked in, & said that as there were no flowers or greenery or gifts of any kind it was impossible to do anything, & his wife was in bed. Only the Altar vases would be done. Joyfully I held out my bunch of flowers & offered to arrange them. ‘Oh no thank you – my wife always does them & I will take them over to her bedroom presently.’ I and my little bunch of flowers went sadly home again.


Miss Robertson

Miss Robertson lived where the Vicarage now is – Westbury in those days. – She was an elderly lady living alone with a young but very devoted maid. I used to go and read to her when her eyes began to get bad, & sometimes I would go for hours on end while she slept peacefully – not daring to stop in case she woke. The Idylls of the King and Paradise Lost were her favourites. Then as time went on, I wrote her letters for her & read out to her all those that arrived.

One day there came an appeal from a nephew for advice upon his matrimonial venture. Miss Robertson turned to me: ‘you are a far more suitable adviser and you must write in your own words a reply for me to sign’.  Near the end she became very incapacitated & she arranged that I should have power of attorney so that I might sign her cheques.

This was very helpful after her death, as the fact of my having the power to draw money, the estate could be wound up in a very short space of time.

One morning her maid sent me a message to come & see her. I found that her mind had become very deranged & she was obsessed by the idea that she and she alone knew of a plot to murder the  King as he stepped off the boat on his visit to Ireland.  She was beside herself with worry and anxiety & would not rest till the King’s advisors had been told of the danger.  I said I would hurry out and send a prepaid telegram & she must wait as patiently as possible.  I went out into the garden with a book. Presently I hurried in, rushed up the stairs & told her joyfully that the reply had come & that the Plot was known and prepared for. It was as if a bubble had been pricked, her mind became calm and she fell asleep like a little child.

The maid was goodness itself & never left her tiII she died. Once I offered to take part of the night so that she could have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  I remember that I sat on a stool by the fire and embroidered a fine linen Pall which I expect is still being used at Tylers Green Church.


The Holy Three

We called them that because their pursuits were ‘holy’. Lettice was an artist at arranging church flowers in uncompromising brass vases & took hot nourishing dishes to the sick and the poor. Emmie dealt with the choir.  She rattled them and bullied them into singing but her own magnificent voice had more to do with it than anything else. Of wonderful volume, purity and compass, it nevertheless had not one ounce of sympathy or tenderness; & to hear her singing the Indian love lyrics was an astonishing experience.

She was a grand figure of a woman, but manlike in the simplicity of her life and dress. A wonderfully sweet smile redeemed the severity and ruggedness of her countenance & her crowning glory was in very truth her hair – Five silken tresses of a glorious golden colour were wound in thick plaits round her head. Sometimes I would ask her to undo it and it would float around her like a cascade of golden light to below her knees. She was the man of the party and the other two Nevins sisters used jokingly to be called her two wives.

Emmie Tatham, the youngest of a large family lived with her aged mother.  Miriam and Lettice Nevins looked after their widowed mother in a small cottage in Hammersley Lane. In 1916 Mrs Nevins died & these two unmarried daughters went to live with the Tathams. The death soon after of Mrs Tatham made no difference to the menage, & the three women continued to live together. Emmie and Lettice were inseparable & shared a bedroom and a bed. Lettice ran the house – busy, narrow minded and thin lipped, she was not a favourite but she was extraordinarily capable and good at her job, loyal and possessed of a heart of gold. Miriam, the odd man out, was loved by everyone and Emmie was always very tender towards her.

She, of all of them could have rightly been called a Holy Woman, for she was goodness itself. She kept the household sane and sweet, for all her self effacement & humility. & her own innate sweetness gave a dignity to the difficult position she filled so happily. Miriam’s share of the household duties was to act as scribe & help in the garden – they all gardened, but Emmie did the lion’s share.

Occasionally they would ask me to spend an evening with them. The 2 ‘wives’ would be sitting sewing or mending, while Emmie, snug in a velvet jacket would enjoy her evening pipe. Presently she would read to us from a book on Italian travel or from a criticism on the pictures of the Italian school.

I missed Emmie most. She was a strong healthy creature – Downright in thought & word, honest in all her doings & with a gift of comradeship which she gave to those who had won her affection.


Henry Cakebread

Henry Cakebread had ‘Bats in the Belfry’ & he had them badly. Schoolmaster and Church warden for many years, he was now living in retirement in the house next [to] the schools; with his wife & daughter. He was a short bald little man, with red cheeks and a long nose & he attended morning service in Church very regularly.

One Sunday, a stranger was preaching. There was terrible storm of thunder and lightning & shattering peals broke over our heads at intervals. Suddenly, during a moment of quiet, there was an ominous sound just above & for a moment many of us thought that a part of the roof was falling in on us.  It must have been several loose slates clattering down at the same time. To stress a point in his sermon, the preacher used it as a parable: ‘The hand of the Lord upon the sinful’ – loudly came the immediate reply from Henry Cakebread ‘You are a liar’. Consternation reigned and a breath-taking silence. Then Mrs Prynne, lately come to the village & understanding the circumstances not at all, rushed in where angels would have feared to tread.  She rose in her place & pointing a finger at him shouted: ‘you naughty man, leave the Church at once’.

Fortunately Mr Long, who knew Mr Cakebread & his weaknesses, went quietly to the old man & with one of his sweet smiles, gently led him down the aisle & out into the storm.

Note: Henry Cakebread was elected Churchwarden eighteen times from 1892.


Our Water Supply

We had of course no telephone, no gas, electricity or WATER. If our rain water tanks ran dry, it was sometimes possible to buy water at a £1 a cart load, if one lived in that part of the village which paid its rates to Amersham. The other part of the vilIage, (on the other side of the road), came under Chepping Wycombe & this Authority had rights in the matter of supply of water to those houses in its district. Amersham had laid on a water main for their district, but was not permitted to supply water to anyone else. It was a case of ‘dog in the manger’. Chepping Wycombe would neither supply us with water nor allow anyone else to do so.

After a long and fierce battle and questions in Parliament, they were finally forced to bring up a water supply. Their mains and those of Amersham RDC lie in some cases almost side by side and some of the houses are partly in one district and partly in another. When the water at last came, there was a drought & we watched the pipes coming nearer each day to our houses. In two days they told me, mine would be connected & there was only barely an inch left in my tank.

Then out of the blue, came a disagreement. The water Coy had dug up the Common to lay their pipes without permission & all work must stop. The rights of the common land were vested in another authority & in spite of entreaties and appeals red tape ruled that permission must be obtained through the correct channels before the work could go on.

There – a few yards from my empty tank was the end of the pipe & I had not a drop of water. In the meantime, they tested the work & rushing into the earth came a stream of water which I was powerless to make use of! When finally the mains were connected, we turned on all the taps, (I had five lots) just for the sheer joy of hearing the water running in abundance.

See also: When the Village Pond was our only Water Supply (opens in new tab)


To London Town

Going to London from Tylers Green was not so easy – The railway fares were small, 2/6 return, but the station was the difficulty – 4/5 miles distant.

One could bicycle, but the roads were muddy & it was necessary to carry an extra pair of shoes & stockings to change into at the station. The station could be reached in 1/4 to 1/2 an hour, but there was the long ride uphill home after a long day.

The alternative was the horse bus & that left Reid’s stables by the pond at 8.0 a.m. It was necessary to give notice the day before, as if there were no passengers the bus did not run. If the weather was very bad, it did not run either. I have known it actually start & get as far as Penn and then turn back again.

At first it was an open wagonette & we sat on either side facing each other. Then it became a closed bus & always, whatever the vehicle the horses stopped for a drink at the water trough at Knotty Green. The next luxury to be provided was an inside light on winter nights. This public conveyance made the two journeys daiIy. It took passengers to the early morning train & then back in the evening.  It was also possible to hire a pony and trap and this was driven by Mr Reid’s niece – Violet as she was known to everyone. Young, dark & pretty she was excellent with horses and had a slight stammer.

Reid finally gave up his business and Sugg started a motor bus in his stead. Fares had increased & then came the railway concession of a cheap return once a week, providing one did not travel by a train leaving Beaconsfield before 10.0 a.m. Each Wednesday therefor the new bus made a second journey to the station. As the population of the village grew & houses were built, so the bus service increased, & there was an excellent service to meet all convenient trains throughout the day. Sugg’s venture became a limited Coy. & a great financial success. He sold his business & rolling stock to the Thames Valley Bus Coy, & lived in Tylers Green as a man of substance.

Sugg himself was a personality; shrewd & with a clever brain he was a hard master, but a fair one. He ran his business with a rod of iron & any slackness by his men or disobedience to his rules, was met by immediate dismissal. His green buses were kept in beautiful condition & were a model of punctuality & were never late. He himself must have been of German antecedents. His English was not pure & he spoke with a gutteral accent. When I first came to Tylers Green & lived at Claremont, New Rd., he used to call as a very humble person, for my pigspail with a light hand cart. He also ran a coal business & had a wonderful capacity for work which brought financial success for himself and his family.