My name is Simon Barrett, I lived in West Hendred from around 1964 till 1975 or so. My parents were Gus and Jane Barrett, our home was the Hare. It was nearly 40 years ago that I left England to make a new life in North America, I do however from time to time check in on the happenings in West Hendred.

I see that after 4 years and $600.000 The Hare is set to re-open, that cheers me up a great deal. It is a very fine building and one that deserves to be used and preserved. I was 9 when we moved into The Hare and I have many stories about the pub and the village.

Four years of neglect had taken its toll

There is a saying ‘A village has two social centers, the church and the pub. It is oh so true! I can’t remember his name, but the vicar would come in late every Christmas Eve, drink a half pint of Morlands Bitter

and then lead his slightly ‘wobbly’ flock down to the church for a carol service. The singing was not quality, but the enthusiasm was awesome.

The village was indeed a village, everyone knew everyone. It maybe the same today, I hope it is.

Actually way back when West Hendred had three social centers, the third being Simmons Shop/post office. It wasn’t a supermarket, but it was a handy store to get some basics. In 1989 my wife took the kids on a month long vacation to the UK, I joined them for the last week.

It caused a row, but I told my wife to drop me off at the Hare and don’t worry, I’d catch a cab. Finally she gave me a 2 hour pass. My mission was to see a very old friend, Jim Spey. I had been maybe 14 when I met Jim, we whiled away endless hours talking. Ex WWII veteran, exact role unknown, but I would guess (dis)information via the BBC radio. At the weekend he would come in resplendent in Kilt, Dirk and Sporran. Right on the dot, Jim walked in. 10 years had took their toll on a very proud man. The previous year the courts had taken his license away, over some minor infraction, driving the wrong way on the M1. Poor Jim had fallen on bad times. The Kilt was not as crisp as it was, the sporran had pipe tobacco burns, if I would have had the ability, I would have taken him back to San Diego.

The closing of the village shop (Simmons) now meant that twice a week Jim had to walk to East Hendred to buy his meager provisions.

OK, enough of the sad stories, lets talk about the fun ones. Growing up in West Hendred was a blast. I attended the village school, a two room affair, Mr Prosser was the headmaster and Mrs Phillips(?) taught the younger ones.

My best friend was Michael Hislop, we had many adventures, I am guessing the ‘statute of limitations’ has expired, so I can talk about them without fear of prosecution.

There were times when we were perfectly harmless. We loved to fish the brook

for the small trout, oh we had a strict catch and release policy. Mike and I explored every inch of the brook. The Greenway crosses the brook just before you come to the village hall. Going upstream the first thing you encounter is ‘Gannons Pond’. Mr Gannon had used an excavator to dig a hole in the stream, Was it to lure large fish? I don’t know. 50 yards further upstream the brook forks. One heads towards Ginge and the other to ‘Red Barn’, Fish wise the Ginge fork was always more bountiful.

Our other favorite fishing spot was ‘the cuttings’. Straight behind ‘The Hare’, walk about a mile till you meet the Railway. Across the tracks were 3 small ponds, dug out to make the fill for the railroad. In the summer we would fish the first small pond. The only way to access it was to navigate a marsh, this meant that there was little risk of getting caught. The pond was full to the brim with Rudd, we spent many happy hours there.

Autumn found us at the second pond, it was shallow and its only inhabitants seemed to be small Pike. They were fun to catch.

The third pond was the largest, it had large Tench in it but we rarely fished it. This one was accessible by a gravel road from Ardington Wick {?} and there were clear signs that several people (likely legal fishermen) came here regularly. Discretion being the better part of valor we left that pond alone.

Our adventures were many, a fine example was ‘Rafting on Twilly Springs’. The first order of business was to develop a plan. Our scouting missions had shown that the farmyard next to Twilly Springs had everything we needed in the way of materials for the raft, oil barrels, wood, twine and nails. The other issue was that Twilly Springs was too shallow to raft on, that would pose no problem, Mike and I were expert dam builders.

here is a map , the satellite image does not show Twilly Springs well.

We ‘borrowed’ the materials needed and set up base on the island in Twilly Springs. By far the most difficult part was moving the four 55 Gallon oil drums. Within a couple of hours we had a great looking raft.

We had dammed Twilly Sprigs before, and we knew the dam would not last, the people in the cottage would tear it down as soon as they realized it was there. The location of the dam was obvious, the footbridge. At 7pm armed with some ‘borrowed corrugated iron sheets, we build our dam. We regrouped at 8am the next morning, the results were beyond our wildest dreams. Twilly was now almost the height of the footbridge.

The raft was launched and we spent the day enjoying life on the ‘high seas’.

Mike and I declared the adventure a huge success, well until the next day…

Apparently our dam was so effective we had managed to flood the basement of the cottage. The village had a population of 300, the school had 20 pupils, and only 2 of them were 10 year old boys, oops.

Lets talk about apples, they are very adaptable items.

We always loved when the orchards were full of not quite ripe apples. For Mike and I this signaled the start of Apple Hurling season. Basic equipment required was a nice Hazel stick, 3 feet long and supple. These were easy to find as there was a Hazel Tree right by Mikes house, which conveniently was right across the road from a great apple orchard.

Technique was important, skewer the apple on the stick, with an overhead motion (casting a line) and a flick of the wrist, the apple heads off at high speed. We did briefly play with horizontal rather than vertical launches, but even by our loose standards of safety we declared the technique too dangerous for common use.

One day we made a huge discovery, while Hazel was a splendid launching vehicle, an ever better one was the main post from an umbrella, this was an awesome thing. It increased the range of an apple considerably. A couple of years later, Mike and I found ourselves in North Wales on a Boy Scout adventure, we discovered that Sheep shit worked nearly as good as Apples. But that is a whole new story, suffice it to say neither of us lasted long in the Boy Scouts.

One day we decided to start a commercial enterprise with Apples, making scumpy. This is a type of ‘mind bending’ hard cider. Our extensive research (none) showed that all that was required were apples, sugar, water, a place to let them stew for a while and then some bottles to put it in, and we were In The Money!

The bottles were no problem, I’d borrow some empty ones from The Hare. Mike will borrow some sugar from his mother. As the saying goes ‘Location, Location, Location’.

Farmer Atkins has some disused pig sty’s near The Millham. Better still he had left a large aluminum pig trough, this would be a perfect place to get the Scrumpy started. Alas the sty’s have been demolished and replaced by houses so there is no photographic evidence I can use. It amuses me to think that someones kitchen is now the site of the greatest brewing experiment of all time.

Hygiene was not a priority. So we were all set! Getting the apples was no problem, but transporting them was a different story. But where there is a will, there is a way. We put in some water

Even though we were unskilled in the art of cider making, we knew that the apples probably needed to be squished. With no Cider Press on hand, we went for a simpler approach, wooden mallets.

When the apples were squished we added the sugar and some water.

Because I lived in the pub it was assumed that I was a master brewer. All I knew I really knew was the brewery delivered beer every week, and I think it was on Thursdays. So using this limited data set I decided that beer took exactly 3 weeks to make.1 week to brew and 2 weeks to age. It took a week to clean the used barrel, so 3 weeks seemed the perfect answer. Cider obviously also took the same amount of time. The logic of a 10 year old is amazing!

We let the evil brew ferment in the pig sty for a week, it was late summer and hotter than hades. It was an easy 120f inside the sty. The sugar and apples had ample time to get acquainted. During the week I had been ‘borrowing’ empty cider bottles a couple at a time.

These large bottles were resealable, alas I can not find a picture, but I will keep looking.

The bottle filling went off without a hitch. All that remained was to wait for the aging process to complete. Everyone has heard the term, wrong place, wrong time.

We left the evil brew age for two weeks. The weather had remained hot and dry, in retrospect this might not have been the ideal environment for keeping a fermenting liquid inside a sealed container……

It was a bright and warm morning, Mike and I were in great spirits, our ‘hooch’ was ready for sale and we were going to make it rich.

The first sign that all was not well was the sound of a muffled explosion as we got about 50 feet from the sty. Every minute or so there was a new boom. The cause of the explosions were obvious. And so ended our careers as cider makers.

Oh we had many other adventures, maybe I will share some more later.

Be Sociable, Share!