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Reminiscences of Elizabeth King

These reminiscences of Elizabeth King appeared in the Bedfordshire Times on 7th October 1898. “I, Elizabeth King, was born in Wilshamstead on January 23rd, 1810, and am now the oldest person in the village. I went to live with Mr. W. Armstrong, senior, at the Manor Farm, in the year 1830, being then of the age of 20. I understand that my master was born in 1767, but I knew his father, Mr. Thomas Armstrong, who was christened April 21st, 1731. He (Mr. Thomas Armstrong) used to go up into the granary to read his Bible, which book remained on the rafters for many years after he was buried. This old gentleman was woodman to Lord Cartwright [Carteret], and was dressed in leather coat, breeches and gaiters, which costume was worn generally by the labourers of his day. His style of living consisted of two basins of milk a day, one morning and one evening, and he used to carry his lunch with him to the wood in the form of a wedge of home-made cheese and a piece of bread in his pockets, with a two-quart [four pints!] leather bottle of beer, which bottle I have seen many times, and the wallet into which he put his tools he carried across his shoulders on his way to work. When he returned from work he always brought a large faggot which served the house with fuel – a perquisite allowed by the estate. His dinner consisted of pork, bread and cabbage, before which he ate a basin of soup in which the pork and cabbage were boiled. He was born in the cottage where Mr. B. Masters now lives [in Green End Road]. There was grass land which that time went with the cottage, and my old master’s father had used to keep there three cows, which in the summer used to go in the village herd, before the parish was enclosed [1811], or fed on the lead common lands between the growing corn. The cows were milked by his wife who also fed the pigs, and thus they together produced, without buying much, all that was consumed on the place. The cows were wintered at strawyard on the farm that his son (my master) afterwards took, which he would not have done, had not Miss Warren (my master’s wife, a farmer’s daughter, born where Mr. Arthur Simms now lives) declined to marry him if he did not leave off working in the wood with his father and take a farm, a proceeding he was loath to follow, as he thought his other a safer and better occupation. He succeeded, however, after heavy struggles in his early married life, which perhaps will best be illustrated by the following incident. Having secured some few bushels of wheat in good condition in the hail storm year about the year 1800 when the wheat was so grown and consequently of such bad quality that it was difficult to keep the dough in the oven, my master sold some of his best wheat to a miller who didn’t appear at market the next Saturday to pay one guinea a bushel for it. Expecting with the proceeds to pay two men who were cutting his grass, Mr. Armstrong did not consequently show his appreciation of the position into which his wife had forced him. She being a woman of tact went off to old Mrs. Morgan who then kept the shop now held by Mr. Phipps and asked for change for two guineas, which was at once given, but my mistress, putting her hand into her pocket feigned surprise, and said. “I have come away, Mrs. Morgan, and forgot the guineas”. “All right”, was the reply, “send them up when convenient” which she did on Monday morning, having got my master up early and sent him to the mill on horseback for the money. After this incident they succeeded so well that their children, of whom they had eight – five boys and three girls – farmed several thousand acres. I am told there is not one of his descendents named Armstrong farming in England today. His daughters’ children and grandchildren, Cranfields and Newmans, are still farming. His oldest son John lived at the Church Farm, Wilstead, which Mr. William Preston now occupies. William, the inventor and patentee of harrows and improver of the plough, lived at Haynes West-end, now occupied by Mr. Cook. George went first to live at Keyes Farm, afterwards to Stewkeley in Huntingdonshire, and died at Brampton”.

“Mr. Glover lived at the “Black Hat” when I first recollect it. Old Mr. Quenby was grandfather of the present Mr. Quenby now living at the farm where Mr. Spring then lived [Cotton End Farm]. Three of old Mr. Spring’s daughters married three of my master’s sons. Old Mr. Samuel Peacock then held the farm now occupied by Mr Henry Simms and his brother Henry lived at Duck End, now occupied by Mr. James Newman, who is the only farmer today whose grandfather held the farm he occupies on the road to Cotton End. My master was a first-class farmer and the first man to commence under-draining in this, or perhaps, any neighbouring county. I am told that as the result his farm produced twice as much in value and certainly one-third more in bulk. Where Mr. Boston now resides as Duck End Farm, once lived Mr. William Franklin, whose daughter married my master’s eldest son, Mr. John Armstrong. About the time when Methodism was introduced into the village, Master John, who was then a little boy, was asked by his father this question: “Wheat barn tusker, who prayed last night?” His reply was “Master Lyles”. “And what did he pray for?” Sharp came the answer: “Pray, plough, go nearer the baulk!” The point of the little joke was that the baulk formed the boundary of the common and Master Lyles was hoping to take a little off to add to his own ground. Mr. John Lyles, father of the late John and Thomas Lyles, lived where Mr. B. C. Mastin now occupies, and Mesdames Lyle, his brother, father of Mrs. Travis who kept the Elephant and Castle, lived at Fir Tree Hill Farm. Mr. Crowsley senior, father of the late Thomas Crowsby, lived where Mr. William Cox now resides [one door down from the Black Hat]. I recollect poor James Addington being hanged for setting fire to a haystack belonging to Mr. Thomas Dynes (farmer and wheelwright), whose premises are now occupied by Mrs. Hallworth [“Whites” in Bedford Road], but the most damage done by fire was the destruction of part of the late Mr. Morgan’s house, father to the late Sir William Morgan K. C. M. G.., late Home Secretary of the South Australian Congress. The Rev. Mr. Passey sent for Mrs. Morgan during the fire to the Vicarage, Sir William’s brother George being then only a few days old. His nephew, the Rev. Mr. Passey, succeeded him in the Vicarage. He is buried near the Vicarage and Canon Macaulay (now of Dunstable) was his successor for a time, when the village was fortunate enough to get the appointment of the Rev. R. C. Whitworth, M. A., who succeeded the Rev. Arthur Woolston Rose, who died here. Mr. Miller (an army pensioner) was the first schoolmaster and introducer of Methodism in the village and Mefibosheth Knight, a club-footed man, succeeded him. Then old Mr. Burr, grandfather to Mrs. Walter Northwood, held the office after which Messrs. Herbert Carrier (the artist of Bromham), W. G. Boole and now the present schoolmaster, Mr. F. Hampton, who is also organist, occupies the position with marked ability. My son, Benjamin King, aged 56, an army pensioner, is now living with me: and my daughter, Emma, is the wife of Mr. James Mastin, who, with his three sons, are widely known in the district as smiths and cycle manufacturers and agents”.