By the Thursday morning of our first week in England, the sun had given up smiling. We awoke to dismal skies and drizzling rain. We donned rain jackets and spent the morning tramping around after Edward, getting the most out of the last of our whirlwind tour of Old Mont’s territory.
We walked down dirt lanes and narrow cobbled streets, past Spring gardens in bloom, and came to Playing Green, Charlbury’s small, town square, which old Mont talks about in Sheila Stewart’s book Lifting the Latch. Below left: Playing Close, where once the town children of Charlbury played games, the older boys played football, and the town brass band played music. Below right: Value for money–the neo-Jacobean drinking fountain at the far end of the green was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s visit to Charlbury in 1866, the Provisioning of a water-supply for the town in 1896, and the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s Accession, 20 June 1897.
We made our through the town, took a shot-cut through the town gardens, and emerged in the Station Street opposite the house of Larcum Kendall, celebrated watch-maker and maker of Captain Cook’s and Captain Bligh’s chronometers.
Edward pointed back up the road, to where old Doctor Croly had lived in a large, cream, attached house at the top of Station Hill (below). In Lifting the Latch Old Mont tells how his mother had acted as a village nurse and mid-wife:
… if our Mam were stumped it were always, ‘Fetch the doctor, Mont.’ I were a good cross-country runner in my young days, and ‘fetching the doctor’ usually meant being dragged out of my warm bed in the middle of the night to run in the pitch dark four miles to Charlbury to knock up old Doctor Croly in the big house at the top of Station Hill… (Lifting the Latch, p.p. 12-13)
We walked away from old Doctor Croly’s house, crossed Weak Bridge over the Charlbury brook that usually floods in bad weather (top row below ), and headed towards Charlbury Station (bottom row below) where Old Mont and his horse Trooper used to take the milk to the milk-train of a morning, and where Old Mont had waited in vain after a dreadful snow storm to meet his sweetheart, Kate, not knowing that she had died during the storm.
Below: We left the railway of Charlbury and went to look at the canals in Oxfordshire where Old Mont and Trooper used to go to fetch building materials that had been shipped up for various jobs around the area. It was here that Old Mont had often seen the traditional canal-boat women working. In her book Ramlin Rose, Sheila Stewart tells the story of these traditional canal-boat women through her Rose Ramlin. It was rather amazing to watch the canal-boat people sail through the low tunnels without taking the tops out their boats.
Below: We walked along the narrow tow-path beside the canal. Edward pointed out the old timber mill and timber yard (the latter of which is still in business) on the opposite bank of the canal, where Old Mont and his faithful horse Trooper had taken the dray to fetch the new, timber roof-beams for the Town Hall at Spelsbury. The beams had been transported to the mill by barge (canal-boat), then taken from there, again by boat, down to the timber yard. Bottom row below: Old Mont and Trooper carted the heavy oak beams to Spelsbury where Old Mont roofed the Town Hall himself.
At mid-day, we thanked Edward for showing us around Old Mont territory, said our final goodbyes, then headed off to see the canals at Banbury. Like the canals near Charlbury, these canals were a part of the Oxfordshire canal system once plied by the traditional working canal-boat women whom Sheila Stewart embodies in her composite character, Rose Ramlin.
We debated whether to take a trip on a canal boat and explore Rose Ramlin’s canals a little, but it was cold, late, and pouring rain, and the boats had finished working for the day. So we explored the Banbury Cross Museum instead, then drove back to the warmth and comfort of the old Punch Bowl Inn in Woodstock.