The recorded population for Drayton Parslow in the nineteenth and the greater part of the twentieth century does not exceed five hundred. Unlike many agricultural villages there were alternative sources of work within walking distance – the railways and brickworks – which prevented the depopulation which happened to many villages over this period.
Drayton has never been a wealthy village and the preoccupation of the community, until very recently, has been the support of its three religious foundations: the Anglican church, and the Primitive Methodist and Baptist chapels. Because each family might contain members of a different place of worship there was a great deal of overlap in the support given, both within this village and in neighbouring Stewkley and Newton Longville. The calendar of the Drayton Parslow year seems to have centred on church and fund-raising activities with a very local context.
The Methodist year began in February or March with “The Gold and Silver Tree”. The coin offerings, which were hung on a yew or other evergreen tree in the Chapel, were accompanied by messages – usually pious – which in the evening, when the tree was stripped at a celebratory concert, were read out to the assembly. The following was of the non-pious variety!
Our brand new organ wouldn’t play
Why it was we couldn’t soy.
The mon from Wing he come to tell uz
That mice hod bin ond et the bellers.
Gold coins were sometimes exchanged for paper money at the end of the evening so that they could be brought again to hang on the tree the following year!
Primitive Methodists and Baptists both celebrated their Sunday School Anniversaries on a specific date. This involved the closure of the village school for a half day right up until the nineteenseventies. Both involved services (the Methodists at 10.30am, 2.30pm and 6.00pm), singing round the village, followed by tea and games. Collections were taken. The Baptist Anniversary in May was the day to set your runner beans.
The Drayton “Feast” was held on Trinity Sunday which normally fell in June. The Horwood Band was met by villagers at Pig and Whistle Corner (the first double bend on the Mursley road after turning out of the Drayton road), and paraded through the village. A meal of beef and cabbage was enjoyed in the club-room of the Horse and Jockey public house (on Main Road, near the children’s playground, and now a dwelling house of this name). A visiting fair with swing boats and stalls selling paper windmills, pulled toffee and sticks of rock would set up and stay for several days to be enjoyed by all.
Summer also brought Sunday School Scholars’ Outings, with picnics. Originally children travelled on foot or by wagon to the picnic place; later they travelled by charabanc or train. For instance, one year there was a picnic by the river in Bedford, and on another occasion there was a trip to Wicksteed Park with packed lunch and a ticket for tea.
There were meetings of the Band of Hope1, with singing along the lines of “My drink is water bright” and Temperance Sunday2 was celebrated once a year. There were “Camp Meetings” involving visiting preachers, and hymn singing.
Harvest was celebrated separately by each denomination though there was support from within the village and from neighbouring villages. The produce was, of course, all locally grown. The church would hold a supper in the village hall to which everyone contributed. There would also be a raffle (unacceptable to non-conformists).
There was a bonfire on the recreation ground on November 5. One memorable year the wooden cricket pavilion in which the collected combustible material was being collected, went up in a spectacular blaze.
Since the Great War (1914-1918), combined services have always been held on November 11 for Remembrance Day.
Carol singing was permitted on Christmas Eve only. Neither chapel held a service on Christmas Day unless it happened to fall on a Sunday.
Another regular custom which played quite a significant part in the Drayton Parslow year was the twice annual Meet of the Whaddon Chase Hunt in the village. These were colourful occasions, and brought occasional opportunities for men and boys to stop earths (there used to be an Earth- Stoppers dinner in Winslow), open and shut gates, and the chance to see local celebrities, such as the Earls of Roseberry and Orkney, Gulbenkian, and even on one occasion, the Prince of Wales who later became King Edward Vlll.
1 The Band of Hope was a temperance organisation for working-class children. It was founded in Leeds in 1847. All members took a pledge of total abstinence and were taught the “evils of drink”. Members were enrolled from the age of six and met once a week to listen to lectures and participate in activities.
2 Temperance Sunday was celebrated once a year. The congregation was encouraged to consider the values of moderation or abstinence from alcohol.
This article was written in 2006 by lsobel Smith-Cresswell in conjunction with Albert Willis