Ken Watson’s father, Frank Watson, moved to Wigson’s Farm in 1919 when Ken was four years old. In those days, starting from the Square, on the left Cross Lane began with a barn, and yard and paddock, then the house, No 3, called the Old Manor. In those times, according to Will Wrighton, this was the farmhouse for Langlands Farm. Most of the left side of Cross Lane belonged to the Wrighton family whose land stretched up to West View on the Wappenham Road. The Wrighton family farmed Langlands Farm on the Wappenham Road stretching down the Weston Brook. In the 1930s the last relative of the Wrighton family to live in the house was a little lady, an aunt, Miss Elkington.
Next to this house there were three small cottages which were demolished after Mr and Mrs Chester bought Wychwood next door. At one time Frank Batchelor and Mr and Mrs George Batchelor and families lived in two of them and Mr and Mrs Gus Ayres lived in one. The story goes that when Mr Ayres complained that his dinner was not ready when he arrived home, the following day Mrs Ayres prepared his dinner and met him in the Square with it. Later on another rather strange gentleman lived in one of them. He was Mr Fox. He claimed to have the blood of four different nationalities in his veins, and used to say that it depended which of these was to the fore whether he felt like working or not. He rose when it was light, and went to bed at dusk so he used no lighting. He used to go to London on the train and walked the streets, carrying a roughly made cardboard sandwich board with a text on it from the Bible. He kept cats and at one time had about 30. Once when there had been complaints, he was ordered to get rid of many of them. When he refused to comply he was sent to prison for a month but while he was there a policeman had to call each day to feed the cats! Apparently the house was in such a state that they released Mr Fox after a few days.
The next house was Wychwood and was owned by Sam Kelcher. He was a source of information about places and events of way back, because he always explained that; “he knew a man, that knew a man, that knew someone who told him all about it”. Whether the information was always correct was questionable.
After Wychwood there was Wigson’s Farm (now Dunelm), a long house with stable at one end. This was later converted into a “granny annexe” and finally into a house, Keats Cottage. This house is also very old and again, according to Sam Kelcher, it was originally L-shaped but was later built on to join the cottages in the yard, and this part was once a school.
Cross Lane before the 1970s
About 1915, Wigson’s had the distinction of being the first house in Helmdon to have a bathroom with water pumped up by a rotary pump from a well just outside the storeroom below. There was also a flush toilet but there was only cold water available, the hot had to be carried up. This amenity was due to the fact that a county council surveyor, Mr Pickering, lived in the house at that time. There were windows in the gable that had been “stoned-in” at the time of the window tax. The lane ended at the farmyard gates by Wigson’s but there were two cottages in the farmyard, which later became stone built places. Joe Branson was the last person to live there. There was a footpath and walking right of way through the farmyard to the Old Cross. This house overlooked the farmland on both sides and there was a vehicle right of way to the Wappenham Road.
When Miss Oldham lived at the Old Cross she did a lot of research into the history. She was convinced there had been some connection in medieval times between the old Cross and Biddlesden Abbey. In later times it was an inn and was supposed to have been used as a stopping place for prisoners being moved across the country. Both Mrs and Miss Oldham were sure the place was haunted. They both said they clearly heard barrels being rolled along the garden late at night.
On the right of Cross Lane from the Square was a barn and yard belonging to Charlie Gibbons (Senior). The barn was used to store Charlie Gibbons Juniors's coal cart, and it also housed Sam Walters’s first bus, forerunner of Jeffs Coaches, in the early 1930s. This looked rather like a Black Maria and had wooden slatted seats along the sides. Below this yard was a garden, also owned by Mr Gibbons who lived in Long Acre.
Next there was Cock-a-bulls, in which according to Sam Kelcher there had been six cottages (or six “housen” to use his term), but there was no trace of them left. It was an open paddock and garden belonging to the house opposite. After this was Sunnyside, originally two cottages in which Dick Pettifer and Riley Bazeley lived, but in the 1920s they were converted into one house by Mr Locke, a retired schoolmaster from Woodford. He was supposed to have been the first person to own a “wireless set” in Helmdon. Later this property became Mrs Wibberley’s Kennels.
There was another garden and hen pen where Crossways now stands, and finally Cross Cottage adjoining the farm cowsheds. The earliest recollection of people in Cross Cottage was of a Mrs Stockley who lived there, then a retired business man from Birmingham, a Mr Hipkiss. When his wife died he packed up all his belongings in a van, including his wife in her coffin, and left the village to return to Birmingham. Later Mr and Mrs Duncombe lived in the house, and during the war Captain Eden’s wife and children were evacuated there.
Drawing of Cross Lane in the 1970s by Neill Morris
Ken and Marjorie Watson
published in Aspects of Helmdon no. 4 (1997)