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Greenfield in Late Victorian Times

It is always nice to add contributions to these Community Archives pages from readers. the following piece is by Margaret Butt and originally appeared in the Flitton Parish Newsletter

The main influence on village life was still the de Grey family at Wrest Park, Silsoe. The Dowager Countess Cowper owned the living of Pulloxhill and it was offered to her relative, the Reverend Cowper Johnson in 1875. The area of Greenfield on the Pulloxhill side of the main road was part of Pulloxhill parish as was the mill at Greenfield, so information of Greenfield is partly in the Pulloxhill records and partly in Flitton. This makes research more difficult! Also, Silsoe was part of Flitton’s ecclesiastical parish until 1831 when Silsoe at last got her own church.

Emily Cowper Johnson and her husband were originally set to take over the curate’s position in Greenfield which was also under the patronage of Lady Cowper. When she visited, she described Greenfield as divided between Flitton and Pulloxhill and it was an ‘End’- ‘a long straggly, fenny place with poor housing and rough people’. Many were originally squatters and built makeshift houses. The school at Greenfield had been built by Lady Cowper and her two daughters, Lady Florence and Lady Amabel who lived at Wrest Park in 1869, with a furnished house next to it for a curate whose stipend was paid for by Lady Cowper. They felt that something had to be done to improve life in Greenfield and visited families regularly. The curate was licensed to Flitton church but only had to help with the Sunday morning service when he walked with the Greenfield Sunday School children and teachers, the mile to the church. On Sunday afternoons, there was Sunday School again and an evening service in the schoolroom. The attendances were noted as good, and the singing was good though very rough.

The Rev Cowper lived in the curate’s house from May 1875 and Lady Cowper had decided to extend the school house so it was more suitable for the Reverend’s bride. In the end, they never lived there because he was then offered the living of Pulloxhill by Lady Cowper instead. The money was the same as the curacy, £200 per annum, but the vicarage at Pulloxhill was bigger. The new position was accepted and so the Rev Cowper was only in Greenfield for three months helped by his sister Kate for some of that time. The school house was never extended and remained ‘suitable for a bachelor’. Emily thought that the Pulloxhill vicarage was a much better place to start married life although she had been looking forward to being in their first home in Greenfield, even if it did look out on an ‘ugly straight village street ‘with a pub opposite. They married on November 18th 1875 and moved into the Pulloxhill vicarage three weeks later.

They kept their links with Greenfield and presumably some of their parishioners came from there. Mr Harry Plumer Stedman who took over as the Greenfield curate became godfather to their second son Wilfred in February 1879. The Cowper Johnsons left Pulloxhill for a parish in Suffolk where the living was worth £400. They had six sons and found that they could not manage on £200 a year.

Lady Cowper, their patroness, died in 1881.She was very generous to all the people of the parishes, giving money to clubs, schools, providing soup and blankets in the winter and providing treats for the children.

The parish magazines in the early years of the 20th century show many of the activities going on in the village. Apart from the numerous public houses, much of the social life centred on the church: charity meetings, fund raisers for India, egg collections for Bedford Hospital, bazaars, sales of work, Bible Society meetings, talks by the Missionary society, the Girls Friendly Society etc. Every year there were choir and bell ringers outings, Sunday School parties and concerts, school prize givings and Old Folks dinners. Greenfield, in the school, and Flitton, Parish Room or Church Hall, had Reading Rooms where many of the activities were carried out. The Temperance Society gave talks, there were lantern shows which must have been very exciting then, talks on the Empire, bee keeping, poultry lectures, meetings of the Agricultural Co-operative.

In a time with no TV, radio or electricity, entertainment was village based. The community spirit was probably much greater than now, with extended families and friends helping each other. Some people were very poor and there was considerable hardship – some families received bread from charity and there were still Poor Right’s for people to cut peat from the Moors. Flitton Moor was let to 10 shareholders at 15s a share and Greenfield Moor in 6 portions at 12s.6d. The conditions were that the rent had to be paid on the 1st Tuesday in August and they were not allowed to sublet.

A nursing scheme was started in 1906 with a generous contribution from Mrs Whitelaw Reid. Nurse Webb started in February 1906 in Silsoe and Flitton. Cottagers had to pay 1s a year, the better off 2s and some gave as much as 10s a year. The nurse would only attend families who had paid – the poor remained without .