50 Years of Village Life

A description of Oakley as seen by an 18 year old starting in 1938 by Peggy Briggs

It was in September 1938, almost the same week that Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich and announced ‘Peace in Our Time’ (a statement that we all wanted to believe, but in reality knew it was wishful thinking) that I came with my parents  to live in Oakley. I was 18 at the time.

The village was quite small, it had been part of the Duke of Bedford’s Estate, which had been sold in 1919, and since that time private houses were being built. Bus and train services to Bedford and London were good, and private transport was increasing.

The station was busy with trains running regularly to Bedford, four miles away, 7d return, trains from Kettering to Bedford stopping at intervening stations, and after Bedford, just one stop: Luton, so the village was quite attractive to commuters. The fare from Bedford to London was only about five shillings, so theatre and shopping trips were quite frequent. The population of the village was very mixed, five farms were still employing workers who lived in tied cottages, mostly in the estate cottages, which had been sold together with the farms, and there were a few retired  couples and office and factory workers, going to Bedford, Luton and London.

During the summer of 1939, a Jewish Youth Camp was held in the meadows either side of Highfield Road (now sadly under the plough, for greater production). I cannot remember how many came, but it seemed like thousands with their leader. One enterprising Oakley couple opened up their front room as a shop, and it remained a going concern well into the 1960’s

War seemed imminent, and all the campers who were about  18, had to return to their various countries. The campers left all sorts of articles behind, and it is only about two years ago that two teapots we acquired for the not yet built village hall, were pensioned off. The hostilities prevented all further development, but everyone was busy with the war effort. Land girls came to replace the young men on the farms,  and airmen were billeted in the village. Looking forward, we knew that the village would grow in the future, and a committee was formed to build a village hall.

We were, and still are a very friendly community with an Anglican church dating from Norman times and a strong Methodist sector built their church in1849, and this was replaced in 1974 by a more modern and useful building. Both churches have always been happy to join together in united services and in all village events.

The headmistress during the war was Miss Iris Walker, one of the old types, strict, but much loved by everyone. She got good academic results and many a girl and boy had a lot to thank her for. After her retirement, a Miss Robertson came and took over, equally efficient in her own way, and music was her love, the service of Nine Lessons and Carols she produced in the Church was truly wonderful, and talk of the district.

There were two meetings for women in the afternoons, the Mothers Union and the Women’s Bright Hour. The WI was started in 1945 and got off to a flying start, it was held in the afternoons, this went on for many years, but after much soul searching, arguments etc. it was decided to have the meeting in the evenings, thus enabling us to have a greater variety of speakers, and made it possible for women who were working to become members, making the WI a better mix of society.

During the 15 years after the war, private houses were built in the village and the council houses at the bottom of Station Road. The village was slowly changing its image, but  still only the odd street lamp and most houses had piped water, but old standpipes remained.

Beeching closed down our lovely station, yes, it was beautiful, winning prizes for the lovely colourful banks above the platforms tended by Mr Bird, the Station Master and Mr Panter, the Porter.

We have never had more than two real village shops, but as we are so close to Bedford we are amply provided for.

It was in the late sixties that the village took on  a new image. A local farmer, a builder, was given the go-ahead to develop the land in the middle (the existing village was built around this farm).

The sewer came first, a real boon, cesspits were not efficient. Lincroft School was built, (originally planned for 1935) then the houses arrived, Church Lane, Ruffs Furze, Dewlands and Lincroft in that order.

I am afraid some of the existing residents resented newcomers, but others welcomed them, and it has taken a few years for the village to become integrated, but that was to be expected. Building is still going on, but mostly larger expensive houses.

We have a new Primary School, a very good Sports and Social Club, with cricket and football teams. The old Primary School House is now a much needed doctor’s surgery and the school room itself is let to Girl Guides, drama and various meetings.

Women’s Institute, bingo, old time dancing and Golden Age are held in the Village Hall and the Methodist Schoolroom is the venue for the under fives, Playgroup and the Gardening Club.

The green space in the middle of the estate has swings and slides for the children. All this has been made possible by the hard work of ordinary people who know what is required to make a village a happy place to live in.

We have summer fetes, Christmas bazaars, coffee mornings, village collections, all for projects in the village or for charities. We are a very generous community, giving of ourselves as well as our money. It is not all one sided, in the process of helping others we have fun and make many friends.