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But “Johnnie” has a little covered cart

By Amy Dixon

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In Kirbymisperton village: a sketch by Peter J. Golding.

“POOR weather!” I said to an elderly man who was wheeling his infant granddaughter at the top end of the village.

He looked at me sharply.

“Be you Mrs. Sadler?”

He hardly believed I was not. Indeed when our little chat was over he expressed his doubt: “Ye say ye're not Mrs. Sadler?”

I walked slowly through Kirbymisperton. The cottages, mostly detached, and standing primly in their own gardens, are well built. A plump child in a green frock stood placidly in the middle of the road, looking at nothing, nothing at all. Her vacant stare into space fascinated me. She did not look in my direction once. In fact I thought she hadn't seen me. I was mistaken. Before the morning was out almost everybody in the village knew who I was, where I came from, what I wore and how I dressed my hair. The plumb child had missed nothing.

Mistaken identity

I asked for stamps at the little post office. The postmistress seemed to have her thoughts on other things for she twice offered me the wrong stamps. With an apologetic smile she seemed to make a sudden resolve.

“Are you Mrs. Sadler?” she asked handing over the stamps. When I said “No,” she also seemed dubious and a little disappointed.

Outside a man with a wheelbarrow saluted me deferentially. We compared the peace of Kirbymisperton with the noise of London where he always goes for a holiday.

“I hope you’ll be happy here. Mrs. Sadler,” he said. The thing was becoming a menace.

“Look here,” I said, “"What is this? I’m not Mrs. Sadler. Who is Mrs. Sadler?”

And then I got it. I had stumbled into Kirbymisperton on the most exciting day the village had had for a long time—the day on which the wife of the new vicar was due to arrive, Mrs. Sadler.

The villagers had seen already the new vicar, and were all agog at the coming of his wife. At Kirbymisperton, as at most villages a new vicar is an event, and the first appearance of his wife is a moment in village history. The word had gone forth that Mrs. Sadler had arrived and was strolling about the village, and until the plump child got going with her corrections, accurate in all details, I moved about in an aura of ecclesiastical glory.

Overlarge vicarage

The village, of course, ought to have known better. If the new vicar’s wife was moving into the vicarage that day she would have no time for strolling about. For the vicarage is one of those monstrous country parsonages that demand an army of servants and there isn’t such an army in these days. Indeed I heard it said that the kitchens are so far away from the living rooms that an orchestra played in the former could not be heard in the latter.

So, Mrs. Sadler would have all her work cut out in organising her new household before she had time to make social calls.

The former vicar who had earned the hard-won affection of the village Archdeacon Hope of Cleveland, had retired. In his day the vicarage had two maids, but even so, many of the rooms had been shut up.

When my identity became known I was accorded a lot let deference and a good deal more gossip.

An embarrassing moment

Before all this happened I was caught in the kind of trap common in the Yorkshire countryside. Kirbymisperton is not on, or very near a main road, but all kinds of byways lead to it from Malton, from Pickering, form Kirbymoorside. The byways seem interminable, and it behoves a stranger to ask the way. A ploughman told me to keep on till a signpost pointed the way to “Barph” and then to turn right. But I saw no indication to “Barph” So I asked again A field labourer told me I had passed it.

“Oh no,” said I “I saw only one signpost, and that read “‘Baroo’”

“‘Baroo’” he shouted in in a gust of laughter, “Thy ‘Baroo’ is ‘Barph’” and I turned the car quickly to hide my blushes from the countryman who found such amusement in my phonetic pronunciation of “Barugh.”

From the end of the village to the Hall is a favourite walk with villagers or it used to be, for a magnificent avenue of trees lent coolness to the road and made a paradise for birds. But the trees had been cut down on one side and the villagers were grieved. Bad enough to have a Hall without a Squire, but an avenue without trees!

Decay and ruin

The Hall was a sorrowful and decayed place when I saw it. The mournful state of a nobility without an allegiance, as is now common in France, is not so sad a thing as an allegiance without a nobility, an estate (in the feudal sense of the word) deprived of the focal point of its loyalty.

In the Hall grounds the stone nymphs drooped greenly; the lake was thick with slime; the lawns were jungles of grass and weed waist high; the roses, not pruned for years, had reverted to type and flaunted weak spikes of scarlet and white hedgeroses above a tangled undergrowth; lichen disfigured the parapet of the Terrace; wall peach and apple trees were desolate and barren. The Hall itself was dry and gaping for lack of paint; the Army, which has left its ugly mark on almost every village in the Ridings during the war, had finished the work of deterioration in the noble rooms that began when the late Squire, Mr. Twentyman, sold the Hall.

I should have liked to have been at the garden fetes given by Mr. Twentyman. The villagers still talk of the boating on the lake, the sparkle of the fountains in the sunlight, the refreshments, the moonlight dancing on the lawns, then as smooth and springy as a dance floor, the Chinese lanterns in the trees, the sports and the fireworks. How grievous the contrast now with that bright picture!

Not teetotal! No!

Lunch time arrived. Where was the inn? Inquiry was necessary, for often an old inn has a retiring disposition

“The pub?” said the plump child, who was still abroad, “There isn’t one.”

Was the village teetotal then? Not a bit! The nearest inn is in the next village, Habton, and the villagers walk or cycle to Habton every evening for a pint. There are no brawls in Kirbymisperton. By the time the revellers reach home they are quite sober. Nothing like a long walk to dissipate the energy of the argumentative.

In the shade of the village shrubbery I talked with Mr. Pickering, the carrier. “Johnnie” as he is affectionately known by by old and young. Kirbymisperton has no Green, but in the middle of the crossroads that divide the rotting Hall gates from the village is a kind of copse, and hidden in the middle is the village pump, in disuse since tap water replaced the communal source of supply.

Johnnie had just come in. His little covered cart was laden with villagers’ baskets filled with purchases ably selected by Johnnie in the shops of Pickering. There is no railway station at Kirbymisperton, and a bus goes to Pickering only twice a week. So every day Johnnie’s covered cart and pony (he used to have two donkeys in the shafts) make their way along the villages of Kirby, Habton (Great and Little), Ryton and Barugh.

The whistle’s message

Johnnie, who is lame, blows a whistle to warn the villagers of his departure, and down this and that garden path run the housewives with their baskets and their little lists. They want groceries and bread, pots, pans, face powder, cigarettes; or the tailor wants cotton or pins, or a farmer’s wife wants some chicken food, or paraffin oil. Johnnie is at home also in the dress shops.

A former vicar of a neighbouring village had a housekeeper. The housekeeper one day asked Johnnie to do her a commission, but she was hesitant at framing it.

Johnnie, a bachelor and over 60, knows how to handle such cases. He has had long experience in choosing all sorts of women’s garments.

“Come on missus, stutter it out,” he said. “I can get ye a camisole or some corsets to try on, or a pair of bloomers.”

“That’s just what I want.” said the relieved housekeeper, “Saxe blue.”

“Mind you,” Johnnie said to me, “I’m not much use with these modern fripperies, I leave them for the shop girls to pick out. But I’m expert at choosing good warm stuff. The shops let me have corsets on approval. They tell me corsets be trick things to fit.”

Away went Johnnie up the street, his sound leg dangling from the the side of his cart, blowing his whistle, and down the garden paths ran the women, the young, the middle-aged, the old, to collect the shopping and to praise or scold Johnnie. But Johnnie is not perturbed. Praise or blame—it’s all one to him. Though he admits shopping is a bit more difficult since rationing began.

At nightfall

I wandered beyond the church which the new vicar, full of faith and hope born of his service as a padre, hoped to fill again with a congregation of a size it has not seen for many a long year; past the barrack-like vicarage and up the hill bordered with low hedges over which I could see the Vale of Pickering stretching to the sunset.

Dropping down into the village again before the moon came up I reflected that not before had I known a village so quiet in the evening. The men were away on the road to Habton and the “Black Bull;” the street was silent. Oil lamps had been lit and one could see a white head, a newspaper, a pair of knitting needles, in the soft lamp light. Here and there early risers were preparing for bed; long shadows lept on the room walls; a hand pulled down a blind.

Almost every village round about has electricity, but not Kirbymisperton. The village has grown almost reconciled to the answer of Authority: “An electric supply would be too expensive.”

The older villagers like their oil lamps, but young folks back from war service, and accustomed to electric light, are impatient with the ritual of lamp trimming and the carrying of lighted candles upstairs. But the youngster are grateful to find one change in Kirbymisperton since pre-war days, even though it exists in only one or two houses as yet—in the post office, a farmhouse, an odd cottage—a real bath with hot water taps.

Modern ideas

Kirbymisperton is bath-minded. It would like electric light, but the individual is subject to the electricity companies, and they have by-passed the village with pylons, but it can have bathrooms if it likes, and it does like. It can have a telephone if it wishes, and it does wish. The village may be a backwater, so to speak, but it has modern ideas of the best kind, and a real sense of self-help. The young wide of the wheelwright, Mrs. John Harding, for instance, can place the leg of a table and give a hand in her husband’s workshop with most jobs that fall to the lot of joiner, wheelwright and blacksmith, “short of shoeing horses,” she said.

As I drove homewards I wandered what Mrs. Sadler would make of her mansion home. Country vicars’ wives, I mused, are sometimes heroines. I should like to have met Mrs. Sadler.