From the Thorley Archives
Growing Up in the Parish of Thorley

As presented by Edward Miller to the 2021 Annual General Meeting of the Friends of St James


For over seventy years l have much benefited and enjoyed so many occasions associated with this church - and a special enjoyment has been membership of the Friends of St. James the Great.


As one of the ‘foot soldiers’ of the organisation l recognise the great work they do in supporting the church with impressive fundraising achievements and offering, too, very pleasant social opportunities.


Amongst the social opportunities l have always enjoyed the AGM, for its very informative agenda - keeping us all well up to speed - it’s very friendly atmosphere, tasty supper and for most interesting talks given by Bill1.


And l wondered if, before l got too old, I might make a contribution to our AGM by offering a talk on ‘Growing up in Thorley’.


The content is something of a random ‘pick’, certainly not a ‘Reith' lecture and cannot reach the interesting historical content of Bills talks.


But l hope that there may be something in what I say which will add just a little more to people’s knowledge of Thorley.


And l do include names of people who died long ago and may not be known to you - but names l am pleased to remember for the part they played in the parish life of Thorley.



I was born at number 22 Park Lane on 3rd January 1940 and lived in Park Lane in two further houses into adult life. Until the mid-1950s Park Lane was a rough, un-asphalted road (as were Thorley Hill, Thorley Park Road and Thornbera Road) and I have memories of large bonfires burning in the middle of the road to celebrate VE day, VJ day and on Guy Fawkes nights, accompanied, of course, by fireworks.


The gardens of the houses in which I lived backed onto Arthur and Bert Bird's land, part of Hither Farm, the farm being located at the junction of old Thorley Lane (now Whittington Way) and London Road. The huge field behind our house was either laid to barley or as pasture for dairy cows and a ferocious bull. So, in the late 1940s we would watch the harvest being taken in; and in the early fifties the building of the Bishop's Stortford High School, for this was the land on which the school and the Twyford Gardens estate now stand.


As children the ‘road gang’ would play endlessly at the end of the gardens where the hedgerows and dry ditches gave opportunities for building impressive "dens"; and in the autumn we picked punnets of blackberries from the many blackberry bushes in the hedgerows. We rode our cycles round the roads and especially enjoyed riding through the lovely spinney (now greatly diminished) to the Lodge House in Thorley Lane, and much time was spent running through the disused gravel pits and climbing the trees on the land now the site of Mitre Court.


Early Recollections

The war made an indelible impression. I remember particularly the fear caused by the air raid warning siren and the relief of the all-clear siren - when we could emerge from the Morrison shelter; then listening as a doodle bug passed over the house and seeing in the spring of 1945 a doodle bug heading westwards to crash at Exnells Farm.


Then there were the tanks awaiting repair which were parked in the gravel pit grounds, in the area where Bishops Avenue and Twyford Gardens now meet, before being driven to Millars Works (a huge factory covering virtually all of the area of the present Twyford Industrial estate) for repair - ‘ridging' the road with their heavy tracks as they moved along.


Industry in the Parish

Millars Machinery Works which manufactured heavy plant and equipment was a major employer in the town, employing perhaps five hundred staff. Work started at 7.30 am, lunch break 12.30 to 1.30pm and finished at 5.30pm; Saturday work was between 7.30am and 12.30pm. A pretty long working week.


Manual workers in the town were warned of the time by the 7.20am hooter which was heard all over the town and l think was sounded again to signal ‘knocking off’ time. Millars Works broadcast ‘Music while you work’ throughout the factory in both mornings and afternoons and, living in Park Lane, we could hear the music with ease. When work finished the roads were filled with Millars staff making for home on their bicycles.


Adjacent to Millars Works were Browns Timber Yard and the Snap Factory, which made snaps for Christmas crackers. From Browns Yard would be heard the whine of the circular saw as it cut through the timber. Many of the workers at the Snap factory were ladies from London and Burley Road, who might be seen hastening to work in the morning with hair in curlers covered with tucked in scarves.



There were three shops in London Road being Thurley’s Post Office and grocery shop, now the Mencap building, Barretts, the grocers at 136 London Road, a well-stocked shop on the site now occupied by Dawns Stores and Prices, a smaller grocery shop located between Barretts and Thorley Hill. I didn't often go into Thurleys. Mr. Thurley seemed a rather solemn man but Barretts, run by Jimmy and Elsie Foreman was a busy and popular shop. Jimmy and Elsie sang in the church choir and performed with the Thorley Amateur Dramatic Society known, obviously enough as the TADS. Jimmy, who had a fine baritone voice and was the male soloist in the choir, would sometimes break into song in the shop.


Prices was visited on the way home from school for the one penny (a 240th part of £1) drink of lemonade or cherryade. You simply went in, rang the counter bell and asked for your penny drink. This was poured into a small glass, perhaps a sixth of a pint, and enjoyed whilst passing a brief word with the white-haired Mrs Price. The other thing I remember getting there were Victory V gums, because they were cheap (but not very nice).



As children from the northern or town part of the parish we went to school at either Northgate or St Michaels Primary schools. To get there we used the 350 or 351 double decker buses to Hertford which started their journeys from Southmill Road, turned round the White Posts and picked us all up at the bus stop in South Road, opposite where the Shell garage now stands. We paid a fare of one penny and, if going to Northgate, then located opposite the present Nissan garage, got off at the stop opposite the old poultry market in Hadham Road. We used to enjoy seeing the conductor pull the ticket from the ticket ‘rack’ and ‘ping’ it in the silver hole punching machine attached to his belt.


When we were about ten years old we rode our bicycles to school on roads far less crowded than nowadays and with a two way system through South Street and Potter Street. And if you lived in London Road or Thorley Street you could catch the 720 Green Line coach to take you to Aldgate on the boundary of the City.



The town football ground was in Thorley parish, bordered by the stream, now covered over, which was then the northern parish boundary by Rhodes Avenue. Saturday afternoons in the football season were eagerly awaited. My father introduced me to the ground in about 1946 and used to take me there for a season or two, until at about the age of eight I was given my sixpence entrance money and walked to the ground from home. Crackly records would be played until the teams came out to the cheers of the crowd of several hundred who supported the town.


Quite apart from enjoying the football, there were some notable characters (several from Thorley) among the supporters who gave vent to their feelings - but in a much friendlier way than is the case nowadays. At the age of 17 I started to play for the town football club for some eight seasons.


Our own games of football (coats put down for goal posts) were played with friends in the field beside the level crossing in Twyford Road. The field has long since been dug up for the gravel and sand deposits lying below and is now the fishing lake beside the railway line.


ln the field we would play football and cricket and loved watching the trains go past, especially if hauled by Britannia or another engine of that class or by a Sandringham class engine.


Just across the field was the boathouse at Southmill Lock from where very good rowing boats could be hired. The place from which the boats were hired was actually known by Stortfordians as Knobby Land. From here my father or uncle would row the family along the delightful stretch of river to Twyford Lock where the waterlilies used to grow - just by Twyford Mill (now flats) then a working mill.


Then, of course, there was the opportunity to fish for ’tiddlers' (sticklebacks or minnows) and we spent many happy hours doing this as friends. One of the further enduring memories of the River Stort as it bordered the parish were the horse drawn barges slowly moving their loads of timber to Hughes's Timber Yard in the centre of the town.


The Thorley Amateur Dramatic Society (TADS)

My mother was in the TADS and the shows they put on gave wonderful entertainment. The company put on plays, an annual pantomime and variety shows. The annual pantomime was a great favourite with the parishioners. The TADS had been founded by the Revd. Sydney Robinson who always played a leading comic role, for example Buttons or Widow Twankey, in the colourful and laughter filled pantomimes. The stage in the village school was small but the cast managed very well. Muriel Newman, the wife of Reggie Newman, farmer of Butlers Hall and Churchwarden, was the capable accompanist on the piano.


There was always a very happy atmosphere at the village shows and we children were very well looked after. So that we could all see well we were allowed to sit at the front on a row of cushions and from there l remember watching my mother playing Cinderella, with Pam Finch (née Wolfson) formerly of Thorley House and Sparrows Nest, as Prince Charming and the Revd Sydney as Buttons.


The Church

My parents attended St James from 1946 and when the Rector formed a church choir, my mother was one of the number of ladies of the parish who joined. My sister and I were taken to Morning Prayer once a month and l have realised for many years now how important that encouragement was for me.


Sydney Robinson was a dedicated and tremendously popular Rector, tireless in his work at St. James and one who joined in or set up so many things in the parish. This included playing for the cricket team on the small ground at Brook Farm and keeping goal for the village football team.



One of Rev. Sydney’s great achievements was the setting up of the Scout troop in the parish with his great friend Reg Jacobs. He loved his active involvement as a Scout leader and the troop was hugely successful - as it remains today with Church members being very committed past and present leaders.


During Rev. Sydney’s time the Scouts would attend Morning Prayer on a monthly basis - and made a great impression with their very smart appearance as they entered the Church in procession behind the Union Jack and Scout Banner.


The Sunday School

Other than at Church we young people in the parish met the Rector at the Sunday School held in the Mission Room in Twyford Road, memorable amongst other things for an organ of considerable age which stopped playing when it thought it would, rather than when the organist stopped playing the notes. In 1953 a number of us attended Confirmation classes there before being confirmed by the Bishop of St. Albans in May 1953.


Youth Club

Shortly thereafter the Rector Sydney formed a Church Youth Club which met on Thursday evenings (between 7.30 and 9.30pm) in the Men’s’ Hut in Church Lane. This was a well appointed hut with table tennis and snooker tables and a dart board. Amongst various activities we were taught ballroom dancing (Waltz, St. Bernard's Waltz, Veleta, Gay Gordons, The Military Twostep) and in the summer played rounders in the Valley field or went boating from Spellbrook Lock. Other popular events were the coach outings to Walton-on- the-Naze, Clacton and Margate and visits to see the Southend Illuminations.


Serving at Church

As a member of the Youth Club it was expected that you would attend Holy Communion at 8.00am on the first Sunday of the month, and in March 1954, four of us young men from the Youth Club were appointed as Servers. So, whatever the weather you rode your bicycle up Thorley Lane, parked it under the yew trees and went to your duties; and because the stoke hole (below the Vestry) in which the coke boiler was located was very prone to flooding the Church could be very cold on a Sunday morning in the winter as the boiler was put out by the flooding.


Festival Services

As youngsters aged 13 or 14, how greatly we looked forward to the Festival Senvices at Easter, Christmas and at Harvest Festival. For these services a coach would be run in the evenings, picking up at the White Posts and at the bottom of Thorley Lane to help parishioners get to the church, cars being far less common in those days (1953/54). Harvest Festival evensong was always full to overflowing and the church decorated from top to toe with sheaves of corn, vegetables, fruit and flowers was a joy to behold. The full range of great harvest hymns was sung and the whole service felt very special. On the Friday evening before the Harvest Festival a parish harvest supper was held in the old school with a sit down supper for a very full gathering. Christmas and Easter Services were 7 & 8 o'clock Holy Communion, 11.00 Morning Prayer and Holy Communion and 6.30 pm, Evening Prayer.


As a younger member of the congregation, the Remembrance Sunday service always made a marked impression. A parade of some fifty ex Servicemen, members of the Thorley British Legion, all wearing their medals, would parade from the school playground to the church. In a packed church the Legion Banner and Union Jack were laid on the altar by the Rector. The Rector, Revd Sydney, was an RAF Padre during the war, before his appointment to St James in 1946 and his leadership of the Remembrance Service always seemed very appropriate.


Carol Singing

Youth Club members would join with members of the Church choir and other folk to sing carols round the parish in the days before Christmas. A choir of up to twenty people would sing on four or five consecutive evenings, assembling at 7.00pm to sing round the Uplands, Thorley Street and Twyford, the Bishops Avenue/Twyford Gardens estate, London Road and Thorley Hill and adjoining roads. We mostly rode our bicycles from point to point whilst some went in cars and we covered a large area each evening, with the Rector knocking on the doors for donations to the church funds until 10.00pm. These were very happy evenings and on each evening we would always be invited into one or two houses for drinks, sausage rolls and mince pies. I have particular memories of the singers being welcomed in by Mrs Wolfson at Thorley House and by Mrs and Miss Streeter at Thorley Place.


Church Fetes

The venues for these very traditional fetes were the gardens of Thorley House, Thorley Place and the Rectory in Church Lane or in the old village school yard or Valley Field. There were always plenty of side shows including Hoopla, Coconut Shy, Bowling for the Pig, Crockshy, Bran Tub, Treasure Hunt etc., and when you had done all this you could have tea, sandwiches and cakes provided by the ladies. The Church Fete was a highlight of the year and often opened by a well-known personality perhaps from radio or television.


Church Socials

These were very popular and were held in the village school. One of the best would be on New Year's Eve when the Rector, the Revd Sydney, would be Master of Ceremonies conducting an evening of party games and dancing, with a plentiful finger buffet for refreshment. These were evenings for all ages and entered into with great enthusiasm.


Imagine, if you will, the Rector calling for twenty or so men to volunteer for an unspecified game. Having volunteered you were then told to take your shoes off and place them at the far end of the hall - whereupon the Rector would mix up some 40 shoes and then invite the participants to race to the pile of shoes and be the first to return wearing their own shoes; It was mayhem but created much laughter.


Bell Ringing

Several of the girls and boys from the Youth Club were taught to ring the Bells by the Tower Captain, Tom Camp, a hugely dedicated member of the church and very long-standing member of the choir. He had endless patience and got us to the stage of ringing quarter peals of Grandsire Doubles. The great bell ringing family of the parish was the family of Gladys and Frank Warboys. Sons, Frank jnr., Peter and Cecil and daughter Barbara were all accomplished ringers, with Peter leading the way, his knowledge and ability and conducting being extremely impressive. Peter’ s wife Jean (née Lee) and their family carried on the family tradition.


So, the sound of Bells at St. James has been almost a lifelong pleasure - although l only rang as a teenager. lt was felt to be a considerable honour to be included in the band ringing a quarter peal (taking about forty minutes), quarter peals being rung regularly before festival services.


On the Farm

At the age of twelve (1952), I went to work at harvest time on Reggie Newman's farm, Butlers Hall, and worked for him in harvest time for five years. These were tremendously happy times, although hard work. At twelve years old the pay was one shilling per hour, going up a bit each year. My first” pay packet” was £l.16s.0d. (36 shillings), and I will never forget the thrill of receiving it. It seemed an enormous sum of money.


Reggie was a farmer of the older school and some of the farm equipment was rather dated. No combine-harvesters; the corn was cut by binder and Albert Clarke (first world war veteran), Claude Mitchley (Master of Northgate School), Brian Sampford (choir member) and l followed round setting up the thousands of sheaves into stooks to ripen off. This was back breaking work and the secret was to set a steady pace. Then, perhaps in the middle of August, came the ‘carting’ phase, with loads being brought from the fields to the farmyard for making into stacks.


After first being on the stack as middleman, the one who turned the sheaves the correct way for the stack maker, my regular job became that of unloading the cart loads of sheaves into the elevator. I loved this work. High on the load, throwing the sheaves crossways into the elevator to avoid damaging the ears of corn at the head of the sheaves, this was happy work; and the aim was to try to unload the trailer before the next load arrived from the fields. If you managed this you could get a few minutes rest. I shared these happy years with friends such as Reggie himself, a true gentleman and Church Warden at St James, Claud Mitchley, Cecil Warboys, Brian Sampford, Albert Clarke, Pimp, Ben and John Hammond and the Foreman, Tom Seabrook, who was Muriel Newman's nephew. At other times, I assisted on the potato setter and on one occasion at ‘thrashing’ time in Dec/Jan. What industry there was then. I was on the stack and asked why the stack men tied string round their trousers, just below the knees. Tom and Albert laughed greatly and said I would be wise to do so. I leave you to guess the answer but suffice to say many rats and mice ran out from under the sheaves as they were unloaded from the stack to the ‘thrashing‘ machine.


Thorley Lane, just beyond Rumbles Farm, as it ran towards the Green Man pub was surrounded by high hedgerows, partly of hazelnut. This area was a haven for yellowhammers and to walk along there on a summer’ s morning was a joy.


So growing up in Thorley during the 1940s/50s was a happy time. Life was simpler then - we rode our bicycles until well into our twenties, relied less on television, made our own entertainment or joined in activities in the parish, all greatly enjoyed. The parish had, of course, a much smaller population then and people perhaps identified more closely with their parish than they do in the fast moving world of today; and it was of course a far more rural parish and this gave much pleasure.


Now thinking back on growing up in Thorley I feel very grateful for all the opportunities there were in living in the parish. Essentially a rural parish there was much space for recreation. But particularly it was St. James - and all that was associated with the Church - which offered me so much opportunity and has left me with very happy memories.


And how good it is, still, to be a member of this lovely Church family.


Edward Miller


September 2021

1Bill Hardy – church historian of St James

From the Archives