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“Looking Back” – Richard Starmer. Part 1 -Russell’s Corner to the Bull


When the first version of this website was created, I spoke to Richard about publishing this personal look back at a Harpole of the past 80 or so years. Not strictly a history, more a delightful personal recollection of the Harpole of his youth, in the form of a walk around the village. Not all of the original photographs from the book were suitable for online publication, so I have taken those again. I do not pretend to be as a good a photographer as the original, but I hope that I have caught the character of the book

Part 1 High Street

Returning to my youth, I’m taking a walk through the village of Harpole. First off is Russell’s Corner where Charlie Russell lived with his wife Mrs. Russell, who had fostered a girl by the name of Pat Symes became my nursemaid. Pat eventually married and went to live in Hull.

Russell’s Corner

Mrs Russell kept a shop in Park Lane where she made her own ice cream and sold groceries and at the top of her garden in an outhouse ran a fish and chip shop on two evenings a week. Whilst on Sundays she served customers from a hut in her garden at home. Her husband Charlie had fought in the Boer War and who had told me many tales of his time in South Africa They also had one of the first Tv’s in the village when near neighbours would be invited in to watch although in those days there was so much Interference that you didn’t get to see much!

Next house on the left was ‘Home Farm’ and farm buildings where my parents Stan & Freda Starmer lived and where I was born on May 19th 1934. At ‘Home Farm’ we kept some pigs, poultry and a few cattle, the main enterprise being at ‘The Manor’.

During my school days, I looked after most of the stock at ‘Home Farm’. Whilst having left school I more or less took over the buildings at ‘Home Farm’ and had my own stock in them, starting my turkey keeping there. Also living at ‘Home Farm’ were my brother Roger and sister Susan. ‘Home Farm’ farmhouse in those days had a thatched roof which we later stripped off, with all the straw being taken on trailers and burned in a huge bonfire in Home Close; this I must say was a filthy and dusty job. The roof was then tiled as it is today.

Directly opposite ‘Home Farm’ was the Hargrove’s Blacksmiths Shop. This was run by Bill Hargrove and his son Henry (father of Trevor). They also had a smithy in Kislingbury where they worked two days a week, the rest at Harpole. Next to the Harpole smithy were two cottages, daughter Dorothy lived in one, in the other were Bill and Mrs Hargrove. During the day whilst at work, Bill would always have a bottle of cold tea handy to quench his thirst from the heat of the furnace. In the evenings Mrs Hargrove would be seen walking up to The Bull Inn with a jug to be filled with beer for Bill’s “Thirsty work this Smithying!” Then beyond their quite large garden (where Derek Faulkner’s house is now two new houses were built (and I remember them being built). Henry lived in one and Fred Hartgrove his elder brother and who worked for Harpole Co-op lived in the other. Henry and Alice Hartgrove had three children Trevor, Gerald and Wendy. The Blacksmiths Shop to me was a place of wonder, where I could spend many hours watching horses being shod and metal being fettled into various shapes and agricultural implements being repaired. Some of this must have left a lasting good impression on me, as when on an arc welding course the instructor said to me “You have done this before?”, I said “No, but have lived opposite a Blacksmith for many years”.

Coming back to the left side of the High Street and next to ‘Home Farm’ is Phyllis Haynes’ (nee Starmer) house, next to Harpole Baptist Chapel./

Then, ‘The Close’ which is Michael Orton Jones’ house, this in those days was the home of the Elliott’s who had a wine business in Northampton. Back over the road The Malting’s, a grass area still unchanged. Then ‘Carr House’; a large thatched property, then owned by the Frost’s (and still is thatched), next a cottage lived in by the shepherd to Norwood Farm Bill Billingham (nicknamed Bill Markie).

Next, on to a tumbled down house (also thatched) lived in by a man nicknamed ‘Pigeon’ Gibbins. At one time whilst having some repairs to the roof Billy Clarke who I will mention later, said “John Wilson’s thatching Pigeon’s Nest”. This property was later bought by Keith and Molly Williams who completely renovated the house by themselves and put on a tiled roof as it is today.


I must add that in those days with no sewage mains in the village we all had to get rid of our own excrement, in our case with a privy at the end of the garden the lavatory bucket when full had to be emptied and buried in the orchard. On one occasion Father was doing this and the bucket handle was broken, and he was having to carry it two-handed when he caught his foot in a piece of wire so stumbling forward and dropping the bucket, causing the contents to splash up all over him. Having got out of his stinky clothes he said, “Thank God for that” whilst Mother said “It’s alright for you, I’ve got to wash them!

Also thinking back to our days at ‘Home Farm’, in the winter the yard and the Drawing Room in the house used to flood. The wood block floor in this room could regularly be seen floating. The flooding was eventually stopped by a drain being put in outside the Blacksmith’s Shop.

Coming back to the Williams house, we had a Right of Way through the garden to our farmyard behind, which was known as Horace’s Yard, it previous being owned by a man named Horace Robbins. He had retired many years ago and who lived opposite the church where David Spencer lives now.

Next to Pigeon’s Nest, was ‘Manor Farm’, ‘The Stockyard’, ‘The Entrance Gate’, and the ‘Manor House’; all fronting on to the road. The property extending and running to the north was yard barn, cowsheds and various other livestock buildings, wagon hovel, rick yard and two orchards. On from the yard and into the Manor Field there was a hard road out of Larkhall Lane to the Manor Field, which played host to Harpole Football Club and where they played their games before the village had its Playing Field. The ‘Manor House’ in those days was lived in by my Grandparents and Aunt’s Dee and Olive.

My Grandfather Edwin Starmer, in his working life had been local agent to Manfield Shoes and used to fetch the work for Harpole workers to work on in their own workshops at home. Also at ‘The Manor’ there was much shoemaking machinery where football boots etc.; would be made. Grandma Starmer did a lot of charity work for the WRVS, the first lady to sit on the Northampton Rural District Council, hospital visitor, and during the war

Evacuee Officer for the village. Aunt Olive gave piano lessons to many pupils.

The livestock on the farm consisted of a milking herd of Shorthorn dairy cows and their followers and lots of hens for eggs. The milk was sold some retail with a milk round in Northampton and then to the Milk Marketing Board, being collected by Knights of Old. The eggs going to Banbury egg producers.

Manor House

The workers in the farm consisted of my father Stan Starmer, Herbert Leeson, John Oakes (my cousin), Keith Williams, Les Cory and me. Although the workforce may seem excessive, the work in those days was very labour intensive, cereal crops being cut with a Binder, the sheaves then having to be shocked and left in the field for three church bells (a clear fortnight) to dry and ripen off, then to be carted and put into ricks which then had to be thatched. Then to be threshed about Christmas time, in our case by Kimbells of Boughton, likewise, the hay was all carted and stacked loose into ricks, to then when needed be cut into blocks with a hay knife. Also for winter feed for the cows, Mangolds were grown, also some potatoes and swedes. With all these root crops much hoeing had to be done over the summer, and of course during the winter all the hay and straw had to be got back to the farm, which all made plenty of work. But we did have alternate weekends off.

Next to ‘The Manor’ was its ‘walled garden’ where my Grandfather spent many years of his retirement from the shoe trade, growing many flowers and vegetables — asparagus being a speciality. We also used to play Croquet on the large lawn.

Three Cottages carried on from this (now ‘Kingsley House’), the home of Ted Elkins. Going back to the other side of the High Street and next to ‘The Close’ , three more cottages. I had the chance to buy these for €300 but in those days you could not get a mortgage on old property and they were converted into one house and called ‘Powderham’ where Mr and Mrs Peach who lived there had come from in Devon.

Then on the Manor Front Field where Sylvia and I had our house built, ‘Parkside’ at 58 High Street. Also in this field and directly in front of ‘The Manor’ stood a massive walnut tree which unfortunately had to be felled when Grandma Starmer needed some money. Also in this field was a conker tree and a spinney containing hazel nuts and apple trees and two poultry houses. One of these poultry houses at one time had a huge colony of rats underneath it. To get rid of this plague we had to lift the shed off the ground, put wire netting round it, and then Jerry Page (who lived at ‘The Old Rectory’ with his terriers) and we with sticks, made short work of over 100 rats — there being only one nest). So it was thought they must have been a swarm that had followed the ditch at the bottom of the field. This water course runs from the lake called ‘The Island’, part of the grounds of ‘The Hall’, and eventually runs down to Northampton Road.

Next, we come to The Bull Inn, the landlord at the time being Tom Ward, with all the usual pub games being played. Crib, Darts, Northamptonshire Skittles and Quits in a shed at the top of the yard. And of course on the evening of ‘Shrove Tuesday’ – the annual ‘Pipe Smoking Competition’. The pub later being taken over by Ted and Con Starmer.

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