War Memorial Gary Trouton

Notes from a newcomer

February 2005

Marion, struggling through a feverish virus, looks at the traditional differences between the two neighbouring villages of Stoke & Oxborough

Languishing in bed with a bout of flu, I listened to a radio programme on how the bicycle changed history - especially in rural areas where, before the bike was invented, most people married someone who lived within six miles of where they lived. (I wonder if that's why couples were said to be 'walking out together'?)

But what strikes me as remarkable is that despite giant strides in communications - the phone, the car, even the Internet - there is to this day a striking difference between villages that are geographically only a short distance apart.

Take Oxborougb and Stoke Ferry; separated by just a few miles of winding road and a strip of fen, the two parishes could hardly be less alike. The difference was neatly summed up by an elderly local who said to my husband: "Oxborough, that's squire's village, that is, but Stoke Ferry - that be people's village."

Life in Oxborough revolved around the Hall and the Roman Catholic Bedingfeld family. It may be a National Trust property, these days, but romantic shades of Brideshead Revisited continue to cling to the beautiful moated building with its private church and walled orchard and its houses clustered serenely around the village green.

With a skyline dominated by the Grampian factory, Stoke Ferry also remains pretty true to what it has always been - a working community. Business has been at its heart since the trading potential of the Wissey attracted the earliest settlers. As for religion, Stoke Ferry folk took readily to the Noncomformist tradition of East Anglia - so no doffing their caps to the squire!

As far as we know, the two villages co-existed amicably enough despite being culturally poles apart - unlike the neighbouring Bedfordshire villages of Great Barford and Roxton where, in Victorian times, battle regularly broke out between women working in adjacent fields along the parish boundaries. By all accounts, the air was thick with oaths and well-aimed potatoes. Why they fought is lost in the mists of time but it must have taken quite a lot of 'cycling' and inter-village weddings to pour oil on decades of feuding!

I am reminded of a P G Wodehouse story in which Bertie Wooster finds himself unwittingly caught up in a no-holds-barred football match that takes place every year between the villages of Upper Bleaching and Hockley-cum-Meston. Bertie reflects: "You know how it is in these remote rural districts. There's nothing much to do in the long winter evenings but listen to the radio and brood on what a tick your neighbour is. You find yourself remembering how Farmer Giles did you down over the sale of your pig, and Farmer Giles finds himself remembering that it was your son, Ernest, who bunged the half-brick at his horse on the second Sunday before Septuagesima." Pity the referee when the two teams finally seek their revenge on an extremely muddy football field!

If you are brought low with the flu before the winter is over, I urge you to get hold of a copy of The Ordeal of Young Tuppy. It is far more likely to bring a smile to your face than daytime TV.

Marion Clarke

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