Julia

Preston, Aldbourne and Ramsbury, Wiltshire UK

Who are you and what do you do?
'My sister Annette and I are both retired teachers and we still live locally. When we lived there, our Preston was a very small farming community on the Marlborough Downs, with just seven houses. It was a hamlet straddling the boundary of two parishes with five houses in Aldbourne and two in Ramsbury. The boundary is the course of a winterbourne. The water came up in the winter and sometimes lasted through to the summer.'

Why do you choose to live in Preston?
'My grandfather bought Preston Farm during WW1 and also rented an adjoining farm at Marridge Hill. Our parents moved into Marridge Hill Farm just before WW2. After the war we moved down to Preston Farm. Preston is on the Swindon to Hungerford road and, although a main road, it never seemed to have much traffic.

We had the most wonderful childhood. We were always out and about, playing and exploring. There were five children in our family. Our two cousins also lived on the farm. We had total freedom to go anywhere on the farm as long as we said where we were going. We walked for miles everywhere. Our year was marked by the seasons and the wildlife. We knew where on the farm all the different wildflowers, fruits and berries grew. The year started when we walked for miles to pick snowdrops, followed by primroses, bluebells, violets, cowslips, different kinds of orchids, all the cornfield flowers, blackberries, hazelnuts, crab apples and finally holly and ivy. There always seemed to be vases and jars of flowers around the house and pots of homemade jam in the larder.'

What's your favourite place in Preston and why?
'The winterbourne, or brook as we called it, provided so much fun. We collected frogspawn, minnows and sticklebacks and watched the pike, ducks, moorhens and water rats. We lugged old, very heavy iron water troughs down to the brook and using poles went up and down until the water dried up. If the water lasted until summer, we played in it endlessly, building dams and trying to swim but it was never deep enough. We then walked the couple of miles to Ramsbury to go swimming in the mill stream of one of the water mills.

There were always horses on the farm, lots of horses, because grandfather was also a horse dealer. The farm used working horses long after tractors were commonplace. There were often cattle lorries bringing or collecting horses. We sometimes had to lead one or often two horses along the road to a field. It was quite scary as we were young and short, and the horses were usually big Shire horses, restless after a long journey. Other dealers often came to the farm to see if there was anything to buy. We watched the horses being trotted up and down, teeth examined, and legs felt. The bargaining process was a bit scary as there was a lot of shouting, walking back and forth, then shaking hands.

Harvest time was probably the best time. We were on holiday from school and there was so much to do. Before the combine harvester, the corn was cut with a binder and we used to help pick up the sheaves and make the shocks. Later we rode on the combine and sat on the sacks as they slid down the chute. We then rode on the trailers collecting the sheaves, sacks, and bales of straw. There were no health and safety rules back then!

Sadly, nothing lasts forever and in 1962 my grandfather decided to sell the farm. We had to move. It was only to the next village but it might as well have been half way round the world. We missed the farm so much but we have all our memories of a precious way of life scarcely known today. It was and always will be ‘our Preston’.

Driving through Preston now, the place is unrecognisable as our wonderful family mixed farm. All Dad’s carefully trimmed hedges have been allowed to grow into trees, tall fences have been erected and we cannot see across the fields. One of our old thatched barns has been converted to a house and the separate garage, erected for it, has also been converted into a house. Money has come in and bought up the other houses. The only house to have stayed the same is the little 200 year old whitewashed thatched toll cottage.'

What is Preston proud of?
'Almost all our needs were brought to the house. Mum used to either phone through her order to the shops in the local villages or give her order for the next week when a delivery was made. We had deliveries from the butcher, grocer, baker, fishmonger, coalman and, after the cows were sold, a milkman.'

Tell us something about Preston that people won't know?
'A daily carrier passed the house on its way to Hungerford and collected any shoes or boots needing repairs, parcels to be delivered, errands run. Once a month Mr. Wiltshire came from a Marlborough shoe shop with suitcases of shoes for us to see. The next month he brought out what we had ordered. Every fortnight the ‘cake lady’ came and delivered a homemade cake and took an order for the next delivery.'