Cuddington | Buckinghamshire

Village History

This page contains a series of articles covering different aspects of our village's history and heritage.

Map of Cuddington, OS Six Inch series 1888-1913  (Source: National Library of Scotland)

Thanks to Peggy Cattell and Peter Wenham for supplying the photos above, showing how our houses and streets used to look.  Click on any one to see an enlarged version.

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Napoleon Bonaparte   Photo: biography.com 

Cuddington Revealed by a Threatened Invasion

In 1798 Britain had been at war with France for five years and there was a serious threat of invasion.  The government under Prime Minister William Pitt responded by passing “The Defence of the Realm” Act which set up a nationwide survey called the “Posse Comitatus”, or Force of the County.  It identified the men between the ages of 15 and 60 and horses and carts which could be utilised against an attack.  The only men who were exempt were peers, clergymen, teachers, the infirm and those already in military service.

The Lord Lieutenant of each county was responsible for the survey.  It was completed hastily in 18 days.  Each of the 263 parishes in Bucks was surveyed as well as towns like Aylesbury and Amersham.

Fortunately we have a complete return for our county and, in particular, Cuddington.  It is pleasing to have the names of over 100 men with their occupations who lived in Cuddington over 200 years ago.  Insights into village life are revealed.  The predominance of agriculture is manifest.  Eight farmers, including William Hollyman, are listed.  We learn these farms were worked by 43 labourers.  In addition, many of the 17 servants listed were attached to farms.  We can say with certainty that well over half the 103 men listed were involved in agriculture.

The survey also listed tradesmen and craftsmen, testament to the self-sufficiency of the village.  These included ten cordwainers (workers with leather, some of whom were boot and shoe makers), two each of bakers, carpenters, tailors and millers – one of whom was John Boddington.  There were also eight victuallers (suppliers of food and general provisions), a butcher, glazier, mason and schoolmaster.  Robert and William Ward were named as smiths.  Surprisingly no thatcher is listed.

We learn that there were large families of more than three listed males, including the Roadnights, Piddingtons and Timberlakes, while the Rose family comprised a butcher, a glazier, a constable (an annually appointed officer charged with maintaining law and order in the village) and the only woman on the list: Mary.  Those with disabilities were highlighted as only fit men would be useful in the militia – Thomas Greenwood was lame, John Timberlake Jr was ‘deformed’, while Richard Stevens was pronounced deaf and dumb.  In all the survey of men listed represented nearly a quarter of the village population, which was 435 according to the census of 1801.

The survey also includes a list of horses and equipment essential for transporting men to face an invasion.  The major horse owners were farmers like Thomas Hill (7), James Hollyman (5), while Mary Rose had 4, which suggests a carting business.  Carts (with 2 wheels) and wagons (with 4) were also listed.  Cuddington boasted 14 wagons and 27 carts, which once again were evidence of an agricultural community.

Although Napoleon assembled a fleet of flat-bottomed boats on the French coast, there was no invasion.  However, the threat provides a rich source for researching the history of our village.

Peter Wenham

This article was first published in the February 2017 edition of Village Voice and is reproduced by kind permission of the editors and the author

Ruby Small 

Ruby Small’s Memories of Cuddington

I was born in 1907 and brought up in the lovely old village of Cuddington.  At school I was taught reading, writing and arithmetic.  We girls were also taught sewing and the boys were taught gardening.

We were a very large family, and lived in a small cottage where the village hall now stands.  My parents slept in one of our two bedrooms and all the brothers and sisters slept in the second bedroom, four or five in one bed, some at the top and some at the bottom of the bed.  By the morning some of us would be under the bed.

We had one living room and a small scullery.  There was no sink and water had to be drawn from the well which was halfway up the garden.  The old earth closet was up the other side of the garden.  Cooking was done on an open fire.  There was no electric light; we used candles and an oil lamp.

We had a large garden planted with vegetables, and Father had an allotment where he grew potatoes and greens which kept us going through the winter.  Father worked on a farm, and in the summer we had to take him his tea when he was haymaking and harvesting, sometimes having to walk a few miles across the fields.  Mother was a very busy woman, and she would be called out any time of the day or night to deliver somebody’s baby; she was a sort of local midwife, and when she had a little one of her own, she had to take it with her.  She was also called out if someone died, to perform the necessary duties.

In the school holidays, we used to play down at the mill and paddle in the millpond, and play in the meadows and make daisy chains.  We found all kinds of wild flowers – cowslips, ladysmocks, orchids (which we used to call King Fingers) and lovely quaking grasses.

We didn’t have any luxuries; no Easter eggs, or toys at Christmas, no birthday cards, but we were quite happy and contented.  There were always a lot of gipsies around and on Sunday mornings one would come with his barrel organ and monkey and play in the street.

We had a brass band in the village, and they paraded around the village at holiday time.  We had a Village Feast once a year in May, with swings, roundabouts, coconut shy and stalls – in all a great occasion.

Our village had a post office, a grocer’s and a butcher, and when we came out of school we would watch the butcher kill the pigs in the yard and burn them on straw.  The butcher would then throw the pigs’ toenails across the road, and we would all scramble to get one to chew.  They tasted delicious.

Reproduced from the book Buckinghamshire Within Living Memory with the kind permission of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women’s Institutes

  • Henry Boddington
  • Cuddington Mill

Henry Boddington’s Cuddington

One of the most notable members of the Boddington family was Henry Boddington.  This family owned Mill Farm on the road to Chearsley for over 200 years.

Henry was born in nearby Thame in 1813, but spent his boyhood in Cuddington.  However, when he was 20, he went to Manchester as a clerk in the Strangeways brewery.  He was highly successful, becoming a partner and then the sole proprietor of what became the world famous Boddington’s brewery.

Henry never forgot Cuddington and we are indebted to him for two particular gifts to the village.  He commissioned six new bells for St Nicholas’ Church.  The inscription reads, “For the honour of God and the use of this church, these six bells were raised in 1884 by Henry Boddington, whose ancestors lived in this parish for many years.”  When he retired in 1881, his family urged him to write about his life and recollections of Cuddington and he penned with typical modesty, “The record of an unimportant life”, which was completed before his death in 1886.

Henry’s reminiscences provide a source of stories concerning the life and people in Cuddington.  One anecdote told by Henry’s father involves an exploit on an annual feast day, probably in 1796, when six men from Cuddington Mill, including his father and uncles, set off for the village, each laden with a sack of flour weighing 280lbs.  They carried this load about three quarters of a mile to the bakery in Cuddington.  Henry concludes by saying, “This was considered a marvellous exhibition of strength.”

Another story rich in local colour involves a “rustic youth” from Holyman’s Farm in the village, who was dispatched to Thame to purchase drugs for an ailing cow.  When he reached Scotsgrove Hill on the outskirts of Thame, he spied five imposing soldiers in French uniforms.  The youth immediately turned tail and ran back to Cuddington breathlessly exclaiming, “They be come!”  Henry gives the context of this.  During the war against Napoleon a sizeable number of French officers were held in Thame as Prisoners of War.  They were given licence to roam as long as they wore their uniforms and did not encroach more than a mile from the centre of the town.  The terrified Cuddington youth, apparently unaware of this, jumped to the conclusion that the soldiers were the advance force of an invading French army!

Henry Boddington’s memoirs also include the story of a market gardener in 1828 named William Edden, who lived in Thame and travelled with his pony and cart to Aylesbury every Saturday to sell his plants and shrubs at market.  His wife expected him back as usual at about seven or eight o’clock in the evening.  She had prepared supper and was ironing when suddenly she uttered a great scream and ran into the street crying out that her husband had been murdered by a man with a hammer, wearing a green coat.  Indeed, William Edden did not return home and his son and a friend set out to find him.  Eventually his cart was found lying on a fence outside Haddenham.  His pony was grazing on the verge.  Continuing their search, they came upon the body of Edden.  He had indeed been murdered with severe blows to the head.  Eventually evidence pointed to a certain Ben Tyler, who was a dealer who came regularly to Thame with his cart to sell fish.  Local suspicions were immediately aroused as Ben Tyler sported a green coat.  Moreover he had been seen in the vicinity of the murder on the night in question.  It also came to light that he had borrowed a long handled coal hammer that night from a local poacher, Solomon Sewell.  It also was suggested that Ben Tyler carried dead bodies plucked from graves to take to London hospitals for dissection.  It was alleged that Tyler and his accomplice had intended to take Edden’s body to sell, but had been disturbed by a passer-by before the corpse could be loaded on the cart.

Whatever the truth of this mystery, Tyler and Sewell were tried in the Assize Court and hanged in Aylesbury in 1829.

Although Henry Boddington delighted in village stories, we have to concede that his views on Cuddington in the early nineteenth century were not at all flattering.  He writes, “Cuddington was a small and very insignificant place, the community below in intelligence” and the village was “so isolated” that the villagers “see nothing out of their narrow circle” and “are remote from ordinary society”!

In spite of this rather dismissive verdict, Henry Boddington retained an affection for the village, but he never returned to live here.  He prospered in the bustle and thrust of industrial Manchester, which presented such a striking contrast to rural Cuddington at this time.

Henry would surely be gratified that a member of the Boddington family, Liz Davies, lives and works in Cuddington.

Peter Wenham

The above article originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of Village Voice and is reproduced by kind permission of the editors

Henry Boddington’s family tree

“The Record of an Unimportant Life”

  • The Baptist Chapel photographed a few days before its collapse
  • The rear of the chapel, before its collapse
  • The damage to the south west corner of the chapel
  • Workmen demolish the remains of the building
  • The west face of the chapel

The Baptist Chapel 1829 - 1993

On the approach to The Crown crossroads along Dadbrook a burial ground is to be seen, but there is no sign of a building.

This has certainly not always been the case, for in 1829 the Baptists of Haddenham bought this piece of land (for £29) and a chapel was built, which was then taken over in 1831 by the Cuddington Baptists.  Edward Bedding of Haddenham became its first pastor and over the years men like him of faith and great devotion were responsible for the Chapel’s growth over the years. The religious census of 1851 stated that attendances at the morning Sunday School averaged 65 and attendances at the afternoon and evening services were 130 and 100 respectively.  The chapel continued to flourish well into the twentieth century, every generation providing men and women from the village who devoted themselves to the work of the chapel.  The building would be packed for Harvest Festivals, Anniversaries and performances of “Service of Song”.  Large teas were provided on these occasions.

After the second world war, however, numbers were gradually diminishing, although evening services continued and it wasn’t until the 1980s that weekly services were not viable and finally the reluctant decision had to be made to close the chapel.  Peggy Hampshire remembers the days when the congregation numbered only six or seven people.  A final service was planned, which was to be a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of worship, fellowship and witness of the church.  This important service was to be held on Saturday, 26th February 1993, but during the night of 19th-20th February part of the upper storey of the chapel and the staircase to it collapsed.  Mike and Sue Radwell, who live next to this site, remember being woken up by a strange rumbling noise and the next morning seeing the devastation.  The site was cordoned off while decisions were being made as to the future of the building.  In the meantime, the planned service took place in the Methodist Chapel.

Decisions as to what should be done with this partially destroyed building were made by the chapel itself, for at 6 am on the morning of 9th April the Radwells again heard a horrendous noise.  Much of the chapel had fallen and later that morning there were further collapses.  There was now no hope of preserving the building and Aylesbury Vale District Council immediately sent out a team to demolish what was left standing.

The reason for the disaster was of course that, in common with most Cuddington buildings of that time, it was built of witchert… an excellent building material as long as it is properly looked after.  With the lack of support for the chapel this had not happened.

Peggy Cattell

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 edition of Village Voice and is reproduced by kind permission of the author

“The Seven Stars” photographed in 1904 

Cuddington’s Public Houses a Hundred Years Ago

Public houses at the turn of the twentieth century provided one of the main leisure activities for Cuddington villagers, although at this time few women appear to have frequented public houses, particularly on their own.

In common with other public houses at the time, beer was the main drink, although some spirits were consumed.  Cigarettes were sold but few public houses provided sandwiches, let alone meals.  Most men took the opportunity to converse and it seems that although local events would be the main talking points, national and international affairs would also be discussed.  In an age before television and radio, newspapers provided the main sources of information.  Public houses were also the setting for games: for example dominoes, darts, cards and shove penny.  They also provided places for meetings, since there were few other places in the village suitable for meetings at this time.

Kelly’s Directory for Cuddington of 1899 lists four public houses in the village.  In addition to the “Bottle and Glass” at nearby Gibraltar, there were “The White Swan”, “The Seven Stars”, “The Red Lion” and “The Crown”.

“The White Swan” on Aylesbury Road was built in the seventeenth century with witchert walls and was originally a centre for carrier wagons and pack horse drivers transporting goods and people.  There was a spacious yard in front and room for the stabling of horses.  In 1895 the joint owners sold it to the Aylesbury Brewery Company and Thomas Tarry is listed as the landlord in 1899.  However by 1911 “The White Swan” had ceased to be a public house and eventually became the home of William and Louisa Oakley.  Swan House today has been renovated but the name survives.  The witchert walls have been almost entirely refaced with brick and the roof is tiled.

“The Seven Stars” was situated in the stretch of Aylesbury Road now known as Bridgeway.  Since 1877 the landlord had been David Webb, who was also a carrier.  However by 1911 the pub had been taken over by Frederick Dormer, who also kept some cows and used to deliver milk in the village.  There is the famous village story of his comment when his old horse fell down dead at the Lower Green: “Well, I’m blowed, she’s never done that before!”  Lil Arnott, a late Cuddington resident, could recall as a child seeing village men sitting on benches in front of the pub in the summer, enjoying a peaceful drink after tending their allotments.  By the early 1920s Frederick Dormer had turned “The Seven Stars” into a private residence, and it is now known as “The Old Inn”.

In 1899 “The Red Lion” in Upper Church Street was run by Gaius (or Gay) Webb.  It had a six day licence because of the proximity of the church.  Gaius was typical of his time in so far as he pursued at least two other trades.  He was a builder and decorator as well as a publican and came from a well known Cuddington family.  However by 1911 there was a new landlord, Walter Wrighton.  Later, members of the White family ran “The Red Lion” until it was renamed “Annie Bailey’s” in honour of the famous landlady from the Victorian era.  Annie Bailey came from a well known Cuddington family – the Roadnights – and after the death of her first husband she married Thomas Bailey, a farmer and a staunch church warden.  They are buried in the churchyard with their tombstones distinctively rounded on the right of the path leading to the entrance of the Church.  In 1999 “Annie Bailey’s” closed and, like most former public houses in Cuddington, became a private residence.

It is believed that “The Crown” was built at the end of the seventeenth century.  Robert Green was landlord from 1841 to 1861 and is buried in the churchyard.  He died in June 1863 aged 51 but his wife Mary, who is buried with him, lived on until 1893.  The inscription on their tomb is poignant:

     “Affliction sore, long time I bore
     Physicians were in vain
     Till death did ease and God did please
     To free me from my pain”

In 1895 The Crown’s owners, Thomas and Maria Parrott, sold it to the Aylesbury Brewery Company.  The publican was William Woodford, who had been at “The Crown” since 1887.  When he died in 1901 his wife Ellen took over.  In 1905 their son Albert Woodford became publican until 1943, when “Sonny” Rose replaced him.  Alice Miller (1903 - 1995) was the daughter of Albert Woodford and she recalled memories of “The Crown” where she grew up as a girl.  She remembered “The Crown” as a dark place which, at peak times, was vibrant, noisy and crowded.  She was responsible for scrubbing the stone flag floors in the morning.  The water had to be pumped from the well nearby.  Over eighty years later she could vividly remember the stale beer smell as she washed the glasses and cleaned out the hearth and prepared the next fire.  She recalled how the men would knock on a partition wall when they wanted their glasses to be replenished.

This article is adapted from Peter Wenham’s book “How We Used To Live… Cuddington a Hundred Years Ago” and is reproduced by kind permission of the author

Cuddington's public transport in the 1920s 

Cuddington’s Roads and Traffic in the 1920s and 1930s

The extent to which times have changed is highlighted when we learn that, in the early 1920s, a man was employed by the Council to maintain the main roads and lanes in Cuddington by sweeping the surfaces clean and by weeding regularly.  Such employment today would speedily result in injury or death!  One holder of this post was Joseph Pittwell – a real village character.  He was disabled but nevertheless performed his road duties conscientiously and was popular as he liked to play marching games with the village children.  He proudly carried the drum in the distinctive red and green uniform of the Cuddington Robin Hood Band.  Sadly, in 1924 he died at the early age of 40 and is buried in the Baptist graveyard.

Then, as now, there were horses to be seen, but apart from Mrs. Bernard’s few were ridden in the village – most were working on the farms.  The two local carriers, Webb and Welford, who journeyed with goods and passengers between Thame and Aylesbury, had wagons drawn by horses.  The Webb horses trotted briskly but passengers were at the mercy of the elements, while the Welford horse was more sedate but the cart boasted an awning.  However this form of transport was too expensive to be used often by most villagers.  Carts would regularly be seen carrying goods like bread and coal, and a handful of villagers had pony and traps.  For example, Mrs. Baker used hers to come to church regularly from her farm near Gibraltar.  Billy Oakley had a specially designed container cart, which took away the waste from village privies.

Bicycles became popular in the 1920s, but mainly for getting to work more quickly.  However some families in the village acquired this new-fangled mode of transport and Charlie Horsler from the then village shop (now The Old Post) had a bicycle repair workshop before he graduated into motor transport.  Sadly, in the early 1930s, there was a fatality when a butcher’s boy, Les Watson (brother of Joan Underwood), was involved in a collision with a mail van while riding his bicycle on Swan Hill.

In the 1920s it was unusual to see more than half a dozen cars passing through the village cross-roads each day.  There were two early car owners in the village: Admiral Hamilton at Dadbrook House and the Lauries at Nunhayes.  Fred White at the “Red Lion” was chauffeur to Colonel Bernard, who lived in Chearsley, and he and the Horslers at the village shop each ran taxi hire firms.  The Horslers’ son Charlie later built up a successful car mechanic business in Haddenham.  Eventually a petrol pump was installed at the “Red Lion”.

In the 1920s there were at least three small bus companies whose vehicles passed through Cuddington on their journeys between Aylesbury and Thame.  One of these, Mr. White’s private bus “The Crendonian”, made the journey to Aylesbury and Thame every Wednesday and Saturday, and Lil Amott recalled being a frequent passenger.  There was also a very smart vehicle, shown in the lower photograph, which could be hired by groups for an outing.

In the 1930s these small firms were taken over or replaced by the Oxford Bus Company, which boasted a Sunday service!  There was also a special late service on a Saturday night so that venturesome villagers could attend the cinema in Aylesbury.

Peter Wenham

This article originally appeared in the February and March 2003 editions of Village Voice and is reproduced by kind permission of the author

The Robin Hood Band 

The Robin Hood Band

The Robin Hood Band was a popular institution in the village in the early part of the last century.  There were usually between fifteen and twenty bandsmen drawn from the villages of Cuddington and Winchendon and many of the musicians worked for the Bernard family.

The band was set up at the beginning of the twentieth century and was not disbanded until the advent of World War II.  The instruments and the uniforms were provided by Colonel Bernard.  The uniforms were originally rather Bavarian in appearance with green hats with a cockade together with red capes.  Probably owing to anti-German sentiment during World War I, these were changed to an English Robin Hood style, although the basic red and green colours were retained.  It is believed that these new uniforms were made by “Needle” Woodford in “The Crown”.

The band presented a smart appearance and a sonorous sound as it proudly marched through the village.  It played at religious festivals like Christmas and Easter and at village shows and feasts.  Traditionally the band marched round the village before attending church on the first Sunday in August and then in the evening played on the Upper Green.  C. Archer in a “Pattern of Hundreds”, published in 1975 by the Bucks Federation of Women’s Institutes, recalls how it was a tradition for the wives of the bandsmen to present an Aylesbury duck dressed and trussed for the table at Cuddington and Winchendon feasts.

In the forty years of its existence the band had various leaders including “Nipper” Smith from Winchendon, three headteachers from the school – Thomas Frost (1907-11), Frank Banwell (1927-28) and Alfred Aldridge (1929-31) – and George Watson.  George Watson was a thatcher and lived at Vulcan Hall (now House), where the band practised one evening a week in the large room at the top of the house.  One of his daughters, the late Grace Watson, had vivid memories of these weekly meetings.  The music was usually melodious, although, on occasions, it could be ear rending when a new piece was attempted.

Grace recalled some of the characters in the band including Arthur Rose, “Sonny” Rose with his euphonium, Fred and Albert Smith from Winchendon. William Edwards, a miller from Winchendon and Joe Pittwell who, although disabled, worked as a roadman and was very proud of his “Robin Hood” uniform, which he was permitted to wear as he carried the drum for the band.  Will Frost, John Parrott and the two Orchard brothers, Ted and Cecil, and their cousin, Ted from Winchendon, were also members.  Some of the instruments were kept in Grace’s house.

One uniform still survives, but although we have mature villagers’ memories and some photographs, the village band is now sadly silent.

Peter Wenham

  • The farmhouse at Low Farm, with Ada Woodruff at the front door
  • The farmyard at the rear of Low Farm farmhouse
  • The barns on the opposite side of the yard
  • Low Road facing north towards Cuddington, with the farmhouse in the background. The road has changed little over the years
  • A closer view of the farmhouse from Low Road, with the family’s pet dog Micky
  • From right to left: The farmer Frank Woodruff; Frank’s wife Ada; their son Francis (known as “Eric”); Frank’s brother Ralph
  • Working horses at Low Farm

Low Farm in the 1930s

Andrew Woodruff from Monks Risborough has kindly sent us a collection of photographs of Low Farm taken in the 1930s, when his grandfather Frank Woodruff lived there.

Frank, his wife Ada and their son Francis (known as “Eric”) moved to Low Farm from Bishopstone in August 1930. Frank’s brother Ralph also worked there.

Frank died in 1934 leaving Ada, Ralph and Eric to manage the farm. Eric, then aged 15 or 16, noted in his diary that he attended Thame market to bid for poultry. Ada and Eric continued to live at Low Farm until 1937, when they sold up and moved to Haddenham.

Low Road appears to have changed very little since the 1930s, as the photographs on the left show.