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book jacket

87 and What Can I Remember

George Pickard, illustrated by Julia Matcham

A glimpse of rural life in Bedfordshire in the 1870s and 1880s. Transcribed from the original, complete with idiosyncratic spellings, it comprises a series of tiny vignettes, by turns amusing and sobering. … What it lacks in continuity or length, it makes up for in richness of people and events.

Terry Fletcher, The Countryman

87 And What Can I Remember is a transcript of George Pickard’s childhood memories, set down in a two-and-sixpenny notepad shortly before he died in Northampton in 1961. George was born at Wootton in Bedfordshire, the sixth child of a railwayman, and worked on local farms from the age of ten. His writing is direct and unselfconscious, giving a shrewd, affectionate portrait of the countryside, characters and conditions of the time.

Train and horsebox

Home was an isolated railway lodge and George found many distractions on his three-mile walk to school. There were trees to climb and in the brook were ‘several kinds of fish and plenty of eels, moorhens and kingfishers’. Still, he learned enough to be able to read the daily paper aloud to his illiterate father and grasp the burning issues of the day. ‘I became a politician. It was the Irish Home Rule that was on. Joey Chamberling spoilt it. And he spoilt Joseph Arch’s work with his three acres and a cow.’

Work on the farm was unremitting. The day started at four in the morning and went on until eight in the evening but there is no sense of outrage. No health and safety regulations either. When George falls into a claypit and is soaked, he comments philosophically, ‘Did they put a gaurd? No. There were plenty of boys.’ The men and boys supplemented their diets by using brick traps to catch birds, which they would dress with onion and parsley.

Boy and heifer

There were plenty of hardships and injustices but it is the pleasures that are remembered most vividly: the sound of a nightingale, riding a penny-farthing bicycle, sliding on ponds. And local characters: Lively, a sheep stealer with an iron hook instead of a hand, the drunken rat catcher sleeping it off by the roadside, a labourer who silences a Primrose Dame with an account down to the last halfpenny of how he spends his wages. Life is never dull. A horsebox careers down the railway, a hot-air balloon escapes its moorings, the village policeman gets into a fight, Miss Mercy Guilbert wins a pig at the Christmas party…

A lively and authentic portrayal of rural life in the late nineteenth century. … This account will appeal to the general reader with an interest in local and rural history, and like all good reminiscences, also includes a good deal of material of use to historians of the late nineteenth-century countryside.

Nicola Verdon, The Agricultural History Review, 2004

Illustrated by George’s granddaughter, artist and printmaker Julia Matcham.

cover
hardback
dimensions
170x120mm, vi + 74 pp
list price
£12.95
ISBN
978 1 902173 085