When Flora Thompson wrote Lark Rise in 1939 she changed all the names of the people and places she remembered from her childhood. Lark Rise is actually Juniper Hill, a hamlet on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border, and she describes rural life in such evocative terms that the book is now viewed as a modern classic. It has been reprinted many times, often as part of the trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford, and copies can be found in almost every library, and most bookshops, in the English-speaking world. While the book is not specifically on Hertfordshire, if your ancestors were poor and lived in the countryside in the 1870s this book is an essential read. The following extract comes from the chapter on "callers."
Many casual callers passed through the hamlet. Travelling tinkers with their barrows, braziers, and twirling grindstones turned aside from the main road and came singing:
Any razors or scissors to grind?
Or anything else in the tinker's line?
Any old pots or kettles to mend?
After squinting into any leaking vessel against the light, or trying the edges of razors or scissors upon the hard skin of their palms, they would squat by the side of the road to work, or start their emery wheel whizzing, to the delight of the hamlet children, who always formed a ring around any such operations.
Gipsy women with cabbage-nets and clothes-pegs to sell were more frequent callers for they had a camping-place only a mile away and no place was too poor to yield them a harvest. When a door was opened to them, if the housewife appeared to be under forty, they would ask in a wheedling voice: 'Is your mother at home, my dear?' Then when the position was explained, they would exclaim in astonished tones: 'You don't mean to tell me you be the mother? Look at that, now. I shouldn't have taken you to be a day over twenty.'
At the time this page was last updated new and second hand copies could be purchased online
Page updated April 2005