Memories of Fineshade

Cherry Bonney now lives in Easton-on-the-Hill but was born and grew up in the village of Duddington. Here she recalls her own memories of visiting Fineshade in the 1950s and 60s together with much earlier family stories. Many of her memories centre around Assart Farm which no longer exists. It and other locations are shown on the map below.

My grandfather, George Thoday, was a butcher and farmer at Duddington, following his father, Ephraim, for much of the 20th century. One of his weekly delivery rounds included Fineshade. 
I can recall accompanying him on these rounds, sometimes, to sell meat, eggs and fruit in season, from his farm. We visited the cottages and farms around the A43 at Fineshade, as well as Top Lodge and the forest workers’ cottages beyond it. I can’t recall any names, but the resident at Top Lodge itself was, I believe, the foreman or manager, and the other houses were occupied by forestry workers.

 

Grandad was also linked to Fineshade by his farming activities before and during World War II. Before the war he grazed his cattle and sheep on land that is now covered in trees! He accessed it from Duddington largely via Wood Lane off the A43. At the top of this beautiful lane he could face left and this land was all pasture. 

Map data Google, Infoterra and Bluesky

It had, no doubt, belonged with Assart Farm, but the people who lived there at the time didn’t farm it. (I seem to recall my mother, Jessie Bishop, telling me that their names were Peasgood, and the children went to school with her at Duddington in the late 1920s, early 1930s.)

 

I only remember the ‘Sart (as we called it) being a sad house in the late 1950s, early 1960s, with no remaining windows or doors. But it still had a roof and solid floors, and could easily have been renovated at that time. I have heard tales of builders removing the stones etc since then, to use in their trade. It being quite isolated, this would be an easy task. Now all that remains of the ‘Sart is a cluster of brambles which hide the heap of remaining stones underneath.

 

As children and young people, my brother and I were regular visitors to the ‘Sart when we rode there on our horses, and we watched the plantations of pine grow from shoulder high to their massive height now. In fact many have already been felled.

 

My Grandad had to change his farming habits during the war as the country needed more grain.
So from grazing he had to turn more to arable and, following this, the land was taken over by the Forestry Commission, when the area started to take on the incarnation that people nowadays would recognise. Most of this transformation had already begun when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, and I only remember one field left, which was still pasture land. It was the last to be forested, and is situated at the left side of the track leading to King’s Cliffe, from the top of Wood Lane.
It is sandwiched between the rest of that section of woodland and a field still farmed, and its old hedgerow is still plain to see.... grown up, now into full trees. I well remember the sadness I felt when this field finally fell to the diggers, so can’t imagine the distress caused to my family when all the other land, so familiar and cared for, was wrenched away. My lasting memory of it as a field, is of seeing the brutally rough ruts and hummocks with tiny trees newly planted between. This was shocking to me as it supplanted a smooth pasture, which supported a host of wildlife, and plants.
It was also a brilliant field for mushrooms, and if we could beat  others who knew about it, we would pick a feast for ourselves! On that last visit, around 1970, there were still one or two mushrooms...
a sad mockery of the profusion of before.

Assarting: the act of clearing forested lands for use in agriculture or other purposes.  See Wikipedia

The site of Assart Farm today.

Another memory of the area near to the ‘Sart was of being accosted by a man whom we assumed to be a gamekeeper. My brother and I had ridden the tracks through the woods and plantations since we could remember, it being part of our family history, so when this man accused us of frightening his pheasants, we were taken by surprise. It signalled the beginning of shooting game birds as a business in the area, I suppose, but we weren’t aware of that. All we could see was the immediate effect on our activities, and not the fact that pheasants and so forth were being reared in order to be killed for fun (rather than the pot). It didn’t stop us from riding there, I am pleased to say, but we were a bit more vigilant! I only recall it above other memories because it was another challenge, as we saw it, to our old way of life... rapidly changing forever, it has since proved.

Another challenge to our old way of life... rapidly changing forever.

 

"Wood Lane" as it is today and as it is known in Duddington - but Fineshade residents often call it "Duddy Lane".

Does anyone in King's Cliffe still call the bridleway "Telegraph Riding"?

 

Read more about the naming of parts of Fineshade Wood.

Our rides to the Fineshade area usually began or ended with Wood Lane at Duddington. Sometimes we met, half way, friends from King’s Cliffe.  They told us that the lane was called Telegraph Riding on their end, but I have never heard that from anyone else. If we didn’t go that way or towards the ‘Sart, we would ride past the foresters’ cottages. There was a loop, through a gate on the right near the top of Wood Lane,  which wound through more mature woodland, down a steep hill and back up another, finally reaching Top Lodge through a field. From there we would either turn left and ride past the houses to rejoin Wood Lane at the top, or turn right to explore Wakerley Woods. On going down the hill from Top Lodge to the A43 and beyond, we always stopped to let our horses have a chat to the big, dark bay forestry horse, which lived in the field to our right. He was used to pull the felled trees out of the woods, and we felt sorry for him as he had no other equine contacts!

At that time Wakerley wasn’t developed for tourists, and not many people went into the woodlands, although there was often lots of picnickers parked at the sides of that road. We used to visit and climb a huge and magnificent beech tree there, which has only recently, and very sadly, been cut down. Why? I would question this further, but these memories are about Fineshade.

 

If we turned left at Top Lodge, instead, we stopped to chat to people we saw, as many of them were Grandad’s customers. There were very high deer fences bordering parts of this track, but lots of times we saw deer leap straight over them with graceful ease, in front of our horses, into the paddocks on the other side of the track before disappearing into the forest beyond!

On going down the hill from Top Lodge, we always stopped to let our horses have a chat to the big, dark bay forestry horse. He was used to pull the felled trees out of the woods.

 

Those are a few of my own memories of Fineshade, but I can also relate some, which my Mum used to tell me. One such involved Assart Farm some time after it was abandoned. My Grandad kept cows on the land up there, and one day he and Mum went to check on them, and one of them had climbed the stairs in the house and couldn’t find its way down again. It was scared and panicky when they got there, so was quite a problem to rescue I believe!

 

My father was billeted at our farmhouse for a part of WW2, and often helped with farm work, as did so many servicemen on local farms. In summer this was very acceptable as it was a busy time, but even so it wasn’t all toil, and the workers had fun too. One favourite game was “chariot racing” with the farm carts being pulled by our shire horses. Probably not as spectacular as Boudicca, but much more fun I should think. This happened in the fields near to the ‘Sart, when they were haymaking there, and the loaded carts would be brought down Wood Lane to the farm.

Dad wasn’t there for very long, though, and while he was in Africa, Italy and so on, farming went on at home. Mum’s brother, George was away fighting too, and Grandad was often busy with his butcher’s business, so Mum often had to go to the ‘Sart fields by herself. This was usually no problem in those days, and she rarely saw anyone else while she was there. However one day she went, as usual, on her bike, and when she came to one of the gates she was surprised to find two army officers there. They greeted her courteously, and opened the gate for her with probably exaggerated gallantry, but there was a hint of irony in their smiles as they did so. Mum was both puzzled and a little nervous to find two such men in the seclusion of those isolated fields. But that was nothing to the feelings she had when she rode round the corner of the track to find “hundreds” (she felt) of American troops camped there. It was early morning and the men were going about their ablutions, so she had more than an eye full! I suppose, like her, they assumed no one else could possibly have any business in these isolated fields! There were many more greetings called to her, some not so gallant, maybe, but all were friendly enough. Friendly or not Mum’s face was “like beetroot” she always said, and she pedalled past as fast as she could, did her jobs and got home in record time, vowing she would never go “up the ‘Sart” on her own again!  

My Grandad retired at the age of 75, in 1963, and no one inherited his businesses, as Uncle George was killed in the war. We had stopped riding in that area by 1970, so memories of it are less intimate since that time, although we often walk the old tracks with our dogs. There is still a big beech tree there where Uncle George in his time, and we in our time, carved our initials and horse-shoes into its trunk, adding to many others who have done the same over the years. It is situated in the corner of a field, just inside the woods, and beyond the gas terminal. But you wouldn’t want to add to its scars!

 

 

Finally a word about pronunciation. Just as Bulwick is known as “Bullick”, and Wakerley is known as “Wake’ly”, Fineshade used to be called “Fine-shed” by the locals. Although other villages have retained their colloquial names you would be hard put, now, to find anyone still calling this community Fine-shed! (Except me!)

Just as Bulwick is known as “Bullick”, and Wakerley is known as “Wake’ly”, Fineshade used to be called
“Fine-shed” by the locals.

 

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