HM103 – Milk In Harbury

Mr R. Thornicroft, June 1985

(An interview asking Mr Thornicroft what life was like when he was a boy before WW1.  The interviewer and designer of the questions was a boy called Adrian, age 11)

 The price of milk was tuppence a pint in summer, tuppence ha’penny in winter.

It was much better and more nutritious than the milk we get today as it all came from one farm.  Today’s milk is collected from various farms and mixed up before being bottled.

There was no dairy in Harbury.  Mr Wincott from Deppers Bridge delivered to Harbury with pony and float with the milk in very large churns from which he ladled the milk into your jugs or bowls at your door.  So you were sure the milk was fresh, straight from the cows to your door.  Of course it often contained a little dust, or road grit, but who bothered about such trifles when it was good milk?  We all lived anyway!!

It was always possible to collect milk from any of the farms.   If you took a jug when the farmer was milking his cows he would often run some from the cow straight into the jug.   When the jug was filled you had to get out of the way quick as he would turn the cow’s teat and squirt you in the face with it.

I can remember about ten different people selling milk in Harbury.  They would often sell eggs as well; lovely big fresh eggs at one penny each.    THOSE WERE THE DAYS ADRIAN

All the best REJ



HM82 Old Mother Overton

Harbury mourns its fortune teller – HM82

Leamington Spa Courier – February 13th 1959

Harbury is mourning the loss of Mrs. Eleanor Overton, a noted village character, whose funeral was reported in our last issue.  “Old Mother Overton,” as she was affectionately named, had long been a resident of Harbury, and was widely known through her poetry and fortune telling.  She was often seen in the streets of the village with her ancient perambulator, which earned her the nickname of “Boadicea.”

Her fortune-telling was of the kindest and most optimistic kind, but caused the more simple of Harbury residents to fear her prophecies.

Her poetry was mostly religious, and recited by her in public.  The Harbury Golden Age, of which she was an ardent and regular member, heard many of her poems from her own lips at their meetings.  The last occasion she joined them was when a party of 35 Golden Agers visited the Coventry Pantomime a fortnight ago.

Her loss was all the more unexpected in that her picturesque stone house was recently rebuilt.  During the rebuilding a spinning wheel was found which was over a hundred years old.

A member of the Golden Age Club commented this week that she was the first loss to the club in the two years of its life, and would be greatly missed.

Here, as an epitaph, are eight lines from one of her poems written before she was married:

How many hearts are aching?

How many homes distressed?

Because of those dear loved ones

Who are now laid to rest:

But they’ve gone home to father

And may return again.

This blessed news should cheer us

When they are free from pain.

HM38 – Bob Thornicroft’s Memories

Bob Thornicroft Memories of Harbury- HM38

Bob Thornicroft was interviewed by some of the children of the top class at Harbury Primary School


Could you tell us where GT Alcocks butchers shop was?

What kind of meat did he sell?

How did he display his meat?

Was his meat dear or cheap?

Approximately how big was his shop?


G.T. Alcocks butchers shop was the building on the corner of High Street and Chapel Street now known as Phoenix House.

He sold every kind of meat, beef, pork, mutton, lamb all of a very high quality.  Much better than the meat that is sold today.  He would buy most of the animals locally and slaughter them himself.  It was a small shop.

The meat was on display on large hooks all along the front of the house.  All the stray dogs would sit and look longingly at it.  But it was too high for them to reach.  Meat was never cheap.  It has always been our most expensive food.


How big was Thornicroft the bakers shop?

Did it sell anything else apart from bread?

How did you display your bread?

How many employees did you have?

What time did you get up?

What time did you open up?

Can you tell us anything else of interest about the bakery?


The bakery shop was the front part of what is now Mr Mugelstons shop.

Cakes, pork pies and animal foodstuffs was also sold.

There was little need to display the bread as most of it was delivered daily.

People in those days received service from the shopkeepers.

The bakery and oven was where the back part of Mr Mugelstons shop is.  The oven was 14 ft long by 9 ft wide and held 320 large loaves.  Bakery work was very hard work.  The day began at 4 AM when two of us would start to get the first oven load of bread made up.  The dough for this was made at 8PM the night before.  In the early days this was made by hand, very hot and hard work.  Afterwards we used an electric mixer which was a great help.  The next dough would be made at about 6 AM in the morning.  This would follow on when the first was baked.

To make the 320 large loaves it needed: 480 lbs of flour,24 gallons of water, 21and a half lbs yeast and 6 lbs salt.

Every baker also used what was known as “improvers.”  These were of course kept secret from the customers.


I hope this has answered most of your questions.  But if you wish to ask any more I will help if I can.



HM30 – Closure of Wagstaffe School

Closure of the Wagstaffe School

The old school in-spectre may go mod – HM30


(Newspaper cutting with “Headmistress Mrs Janie Watts pictured in the playground of the old Harbury infants’ school” and a picture of the school and graveyard)


Harbury’s ghost has deserted.  For three centuries the kindly spectre has watched over village children at the Wagstaffe Infants School – using his terrible curse to keep head teachers up to standard.

Now the school has been closed, and next term the 70 children move into an ultra-modern glass and concrete building in Mill Lane.

For 19 years Mrs Janie Watts has been head teacher at the school.  She says: “I’m sad to be leaving.  The new building is wonderful, all clean and hygiene … but it’ll be another hundred years before it has a bit of soul.”

The phantom is said to be the restless figure of Thomas Wagstaffe, the squire who endowed the school with £21 in 1611.  Whenever an unsatisfactory headmaster took charge of the children, Thomas took a ghostly stroll through the school building, where the head lived until 1898.

He met little resistance until the 1750’s, when an unusually stubborn teacher moved in, it is said.  He took a dislike to the spectre and lay in wait for him one moonlit night in the deserted schoolroom.

Promptly at midnight the phantom appeared.  The quaking teacher shot him with a flintlock … but the ball passed straight through the shadowy figure and buried itself in the schoolroom door.  After that Thomas Wagstaffe got pretty well his own way.

He may follow the children to the new building among girders and glass, or stay peacefully in the grave that closed over him 350 years ago.

HM4 Wight School by Jean Deakin


My mother, father, Allan, our two children and myself were educated at the Wight School.  I myself started when I was two and a half years old, mainly I think because I lived very near and I used to follow my cousin, so they kept me.  I can’t imagine what I did other than sleep on a small canvas bed in the afternoon; that was “little school.”

At the age of six years I think it was, I moved down to the Wight School.  War broke out shortly afterwards and the evacuees moved to Harbury.  My memories of that time are crowded classrooms and playgrounds, and the handicraft room was used as an extra classroom, so the subjects for that room were discontinued.  The girls still did needlework and knitting, but in the classroom.

In the autumn we were asked to collect hip berries and we were paid for each pound.  They were used to make Rose Hip Syrup.  We also went potato picking for local farmers and once we were asked to bring a jam jar and this was filled with drinking chocolate powder.

I expect the teachers I remember most were Mr. Farrow and Mr. and Mrs. Dickens.  Mr. Dickens was quite strict but very much a gentleman.  He once caught us girls doing handstands against the wall; we all had the stick he used to carry around and were told we were rude.  Needless to say we didn’t do it again.

Sometimes in the winter it was so cold in school we were allowed to keep coats and gloves on, and the small bottles of milk we were given were frozen.

Going back to the crowded classrooms, there must have been two classes at the same time in the same room when I was there, because my brother, two years my junior, was in the same room as me; I used to do his sums for him if I saw him struggling and make an excuse to pass his desk and slip him the answers.

By the way Mrs. Dickens used to take us for Needlework.  I don’t remember Miss Bustin at school.

My father left school at the age of twelve, but has a certificate for Arithmetic, English, Drawing and Geography, for which he studied at evening classes in 1908.  It doesn’t say, but I think they must have been held in the Wight School. It was signed by the then Director of Education, Bolton King.

Transcribed from original by Rosemary Harley July 2009

HM1333 – Death In The Windmill


Shocking death in a windmill


The two shocking fatalities at Harbury on Thursday and Friday last week, threw the usually quiet village into a state of great excitement.

The first refers to George Frederick Verney (27) miller, who while engaged in working his mill, late on Thursday night, it is supposed, fell and got entangled in the upright shaft, his legs being horribly mutilated.  He evidently died in great agony.  Full particulars will be found in the report of the inquest, which is given below.

The second death was that of Mrs Eliza Boote, widow of Mr C Boote, of Harbury, who, it appears, went to Verney’s house to try to comfort her niece (Verney’s wife) in her sad bereavement.  It is stated that Mrs Boote had a desire to see the deceased, but before doing so, was so overcome that she herself died almost instantly.  Having been suffering from heart disease, the coroner did not think an inquest necessary.

The inquest on the body of George Frederick Verney was held before Mr Dr Wynter (Coroner for Central Warwickshire), at the New Inn, on Saturday afternoon.  Mr John Horley was foreman of the jury.

William Verney, father of the deceased, stated that he was a threshing machine proprietor, living at Harbury.  The deceased was 27 years of age last October, and had resided at the Mill House for the past three years.  Witness last saw him alive on the Wednesday morning previous.  Deceased was in the habit of working at night when there was a good wind, and had worked many nights recently.  Deceased knew all about the working of the mill and generally worked it alone.  He thought it very probable that the deceased was in the dark, and that his clothes caught in the upright shaft.  There was a pane out of the window close by, and he thought the draught from it would have blown the light out if deceased had passed it by.  Sometimes the flour wanted poking down, and that would necessitate his having to go close by the window.  Deceased’s clothing might have caught in the rope which was coiled round the upright shaft.

The foreman said he should think the accident might have occurred in the way suggested, as the rope was covered with blood.  No doubt deceased did trip up over that rope, and fall against the shaft.

Edmund Edward Griffin said he was a carpenter and joiner, residing at Harbury.  He knew deceased well, and met him on Thursday night, at about nine o’clock.  Deceased was then taking a light up the steps into the mill.  Witness told him to stop a minute or two till he could fetch his tools out, as they were in the mill.  Deceased did so, and asked witness if he was going to make his uncle’s coffin.  Witness replied that he was.  Deceased said that he could not make room enough for witness to work at it in the mill that night but added that, if he wanted anything else they could see about it in the morning.  Witness went home.  Deceased told witness he was going to work in the mill the ‘night through’ and that was the reason he could not have the bench.  Deceased was quite sober at the time.

Thomas Berry, a haulier, residing at Harbury, said that about 10 minutes to 11 on Thursday night, as he was going to bed, Mrs Verney came into his house and said that her husband had not come home; she hoped nothing had happened to him and asked him if he would go down to the mill to see, as she was frightened.  Witness asked the last witness to go with him and they and Mrs Verney all went down to the mill together.  She supplied them with a candle and they went up into the mill, witness going first.  The mill was quite still at the time but when witness got to the floor next to where he found deceased, it started to go.  He went up the next pair of steps and saw deceased going round with the shaft.  Witness noticed at once the extent of the injuries to deceased, and ran and put the brake on to stop the mill.  Having done that, he then ran for the doctor and assistance.  The doctor came in less than three minutes.  Verney was dead when witness first saw him, and he should think he had been dead quite an hour.  He saw the rope in the cog above, but deceased was perfectly clear from any rope.  He also saw the lantern picked up afterwards.  It was broken to pieces.  He thought it probable that the lantern went out, and deceased, catching his feet in the rope, was taken up.  By a juror: the mill was in full cloth, and was going when witness went to see to his horse between nine and 10 o’clock that night.  It afterwards stopped, and a flush in the wind started it again.  Deceased had his arm around the shaft, as if in a death clutch.  When found he was close to the ground, and quite away from the cogs.

The coroner, in summing up, said there was not the slightest evidence or suspicion whatever of any foul play having taken place.

A verdict of “Accidental death, resulting from being entangled in the shaft of the mill”, was accordingly returned.

A juror (Mr Green) said he should like to draw the attention of the jury to the dangerous state of the mill from dilapidations.  There were no means of governing or stopping the mill except from the stage, which was in a rotten condition, being unsafe for anyone to walk upon.  He contended that means of putting on the brake and stopping the mill should be provided on each floor.  Even if two persons were working the mill, and one got entangled, it would be impossible for the one to save the other, as one would have to run down the stairs and out onto a dangerous platform before the mill could be stopped.  That was the only way the mill could be stopped, and there were seven floors to it.

Other jurors concurred in those remarks.


A sad case of suicide took place at Harbury, on Monday evening, when Mr Charles Henry Savage, the village schoolmaster, aged 33, in a state of mental depression, threw himself in front of the eight o’clock passenger train to Leamington, near the Harbury tunnel.

Some three years’ ago deceased figured as the defendant in a local breach of promise suit, and it is believed that the public annoyance which he sustained in consequence of the proceedings, gradually affected his mind, the state of which some few months ago necessitated his taking a three month vacation.  He was much respected in the neighbourhood, and had been in Harbury for many years, but was a native of Redditch, where the funeral takes place — The inquest was held at Harbury, on Wednesday, before Mr D. R. Wynter (Coroner for Central warwickshire) — Beatrice Dewitt stated that deceased had lodged at her house for the past seven years.  She last saw him alive at about 7.30 on Monday evening.  When he came out into the garden to her he said he would go for a short stroll, as was his custom, unless he played cricket or tennis.  As deceased was rather later than usual in returning, witness made enquiries of a man named Wilkins, who said deceased was on the line near the tunnel.  Witness, on hearing this, said it was quite unusual for him to be there, and asked Wilkins to tell him she wished to see him.  Wilkins did so, but deceased told him he would come home presently.  Shortly afterwards a train approached, and almost at the same instant she saw Wilkins throw up his arms and shout, “He’s done it! Oh, he’s done it!”  Deceased had frequently complained of bad pains in his head, but went about his duties at the school alright. —  Tom Wilkins, platelayer, Harbury, stated he was at work in his garden on the top of Harbury tunnel on Monday evening.  He saw deceased coming from under the tunnel on the down side of the line, and at the request of last witness he went down to deceased.  They wished each other good evening.  Witness told deceased he was wanted.  Deceased said he should go a little higher up the line.  Witness went back to garden, when he observed a passenger train approaching about a quarter of a mile off, and saw deceasd jump from under a wall either in front of the train or into one side of it and roll over.  Witness called to some one near to run for the doctor, and Dr. Pirie got to the deceased just before witness.  A  man named Young also assisted and they got deceased up the bank to his lodgings.  Deceased was alive and breathing, but died about half-an-hour afterwards.  His head was badly cut, and the right arm badly injured. —  P.C. Collet, stationed at Harbury, deposed to assisting to get deceased home, and produced a note in deceased handwriting as follows: “I am quite tired of life, and to me it’s not worth living.  Months of great mental depression, religious mania, and past troubles have quite shattered my health.  I thank Mrs Linklater for past kindnesses and I thank my other friends in the parish.  I leave £50 for the school, £25 for the church, and £10 for Mrs Dewitt, everything else will go to my brother.  God bless my dear father and mother, and may we meet in Heaven as I hope we shall. — C.H. Savage.  Lord forgive us our trespasses as I freely forgive all those who have trespassed against me and brought me to this.” — After a brief summing up, the jury returned a verdict that deceased committed suicide of unsound mind