A Sunday in Occold - circa 1913
Ernest Cady (1902-1982) with his brother Will and sister Olive spent summer holidays in Occold staying with his Grandparents John Peck and Emily (nee Shipp) at the Maltings, and the following are some of his recollections of Sundays in the village just before the First World War. Years later he became the Headmaster of one of the first Comprehensive Schools in London, but never lost his love of the Suffolk he knew as a child.
Sundays brought out the ecumenical side of the family, for we ranged across a broad span of religious beliefs and unbeliefs. Granny was staunchly Anglican and so each Sunday morning she would set out from the Maltings looking very much like the pictures I have seen of the elderly Queen Victoria, clad in black satin and a bonnet with heliotrope ribbons to keep it on .There the regal resemblance ceases for I picture her now as a hen leading her brood of tardy chicks all decked out in next year’s everyday clothes, leaving behind her a trail of lavender water and exuding an air of grandparental pride and responsibility.
We traipsed through the village past the school, the Baptist Chapel and the pump and reached St. Michael’s Church. Up the gravely path we went , under the promising horse chestnut trees and finally passed into the white-washed Church to Granny’s pew which we filled to over-flowing.
The seats were astonishingly hard and the Book of Common Prayer difficult to follow without Granny’s guiding hand. I feel that there was a slight embarrassment in her movements; there were too many Non-Conformists in her company totally ignorant of Matins! I have just realised one possible reason why in later life I returned to the Church of England .Surely I was harking back to those sunny mornings at St. Michaels although I admit that even after many years under its tutelage the Book of Common Prayer is still a little difficult to chart.
In Church we were surrounded by a number of pews filled by farming families, the Breeses, the Woods ,the Lasts, together with a sprinkling of more humble folk, including Granny sitting at “outside left” at the end of the pew.
Grandfather never came with us. He would presumably be having his weekly shave reducing his white stubble to a seemly smoothness ready to hang over the gate and wait our return.
Meanwhile the Rector, the Reverend Marshall, would mount his lofty pulpit and resonate and expand on Occold’s shortcomings. It was during World War One that he reminded the congregation that the Almighty had only to deflect the Zeppelins a few miles from Stowmarket, then producing explosives, and the parish of Occold, population 550, would feel the full force of the enemy! Suitably scared we trooped out into the sunshine, back through the village and longing for Monday to bring back the daily country round and release us from Sunday observances and restrictive clothes.
Sunday dinner over, I remember a period of doing nothing much, except perhaps the luxury of reclining on a rug on the front “lawn”. There seemed to be precious few people about; they were no doubt resting from the religious duties of the morning.
But here dissension creeps in. My father’s family were Non-conformists, indeed my paternal grandfather, whom I never saw, combined the functions of cattle dealer and Methodist lay preacher.
I remember seeing a photograph of him, one of those blown up grey smudges which were to be found in many country homes. They were obviously enlargements made by some door to door photographer at the turn of the century.
Grandfather was a bearded, moleskin waistcoated , watch chained giant of twenty one stones. How he combined his secular and religious callings I have often wondered. Was he an honest trader or just a Sunday saint? Knowing how closely the community was knit I tend to think that had he been dishonest in his work he would not have been permitted to grace the Wangford Primitive Methodist preacher’s circuit.
When we descended on Occold there had to be some compromise. I remember the village Baptist Chapel, still there for the guide books to photograph, in particular the Shell publication .Inside the building was light, bare and country-kitchen-table clean. We went there when my mother was able to wrest us from the Anglican hands of Granny and the cousins who had no such religious alibi for missing Matins. I like to think we sat in our pews approaching the Almighty by different routes.
We were faced by a high, broad pulpit backed by a colourless bright window through which the sun beat down giving the Reverend Hawes a magnificent halo .His great moment came with the sermon when he broke out in a sweat of religious fervour. He beat the Rector hands down with a fine spray of saliva over the front rows, while those more comfortably placed in the back rows cheered him on with Amens, Glory Be’s and Hallelujahs. Placed neatly on the floor at the end of the pews would be the little baskets covered with white cloths containing the “wittles” for the day , for many of the congregation with no means of transport, really made a meal of their Sundays by staying all day.
Our Baptist connection was still not finished, for in the summer months there would be open-air meetings in a near-by meadow. The Reverend Hawes would mount a Suffolk wagon and carry on the good work from that eminence. We stood there breathing in the fragrance of trodden grass which I now associate with Agricultural Shows.
With the evenings came the brightest spot, for we were usually invited by one of our neighbours to spend an hour or so with them. Sometimes it was the magnificent parlour of the White House with its massive table and side board weighed down with cups won for shire horses and barley, one a world prize. And then there was music, for our host’s daughters all sung or played while their father supped his whiskey by the fireplace, joined by my father when he came to Occold for a week. I like to think that he enjoyed those evenings as much as I did and could put behind him for a few days the thoughts of our humble home in South London. None foresaw that the First World War would carry my father and my brother to the horrors of France (although they did both survive) or that in the twenties many East Anglian farmers (including our hosts) would be driven towards bankruptcy.
On other occasions we might go up the hill to the Red House, to a farmer and his wife who were related to us by marriage .These folk, though more humble, were none the less welcoming and we children were enticed into, or banished to, the darker corners of the room there to be plied with home-brewed beer or home-made wine. Later, in the summer dark outside we had to be escorted home giggling and only just avoiding the deep road-side ditches.
With the shining promise of the week ahead, we came to the end of another full Sunday with the anticipation that the morrow would bring harvest with all its associated joys.
Written by Ernest Cady & kindly supplied by his nephew Roger Cady of Carshalton