Hardingstone was your basic English country village: church, pub, store, school, manor house, village green, and a scattering of cottages, several of them thatched. My sister and I actually went to the manor house once to play with the children of the family there. I forget the reason for this — my mother was somehow acquainted with the lady of the house.
There is a Wikipedia entry for Hardingstone here.
In my childhood the inhabitants of Hardingstone were mostly farm workers, with some early adopters of the commuting lifestyle (they commuted into Northampton, I mean), and a leavening of artisans and tradesmen.
There was also the inevitable bohemian artist you find in any English village — in Hardingstone's case, the painter David Gomman. Gomman taught art at the boys' grammar (i.e. selective secondary) school I attended, but seems not to have attained any enduring fame. The sole internet reference I can find is to a 1996 London auction catalog offering some of his pictures at £30 to £600 per. I remember him as a very pleasant man, soft-speaking and exquisitely well-mannered but with an air of faint amusement at everything going on around him.
In matters pedagogical Gomman clove to the precepts of A.S. Neill. I don't, in fact, recall him teaching us anything. He just left the art materials lying around and encouraged us to produce something. Consequently I loved art class, and continued attending in the sixth form, when it was no longer a compulsory part of the curriculum.
[Though it is nothing to do with Hardingstone, I note here the other artist of my childhood acquaintance, "Bert" (actually George Herbert Buckingham) Holland, who lived 1901-87. Bert's mother spent her last days in St. Edmund's hospital under the care of my mother, who at that point — this was early 1960s — was a ward sister there. The Hollands — husband and wife, they had no children — became family friends, and we exchanged a few visits. Bert used to pass me articles from the broadsheet newspapers (I had not yet graduated from Dad's Daily Mirror) on topics like psychoanalysis. I think he had the vague idea that I was some kind of intellectual diamond in the rough. I remember him as a kind man, if a bit distant, with an interesting goatee-style beard. After his mother died, in gratitude to my mother, he painted her portrait. I think my niece Tessa owns the painting.]
St. Edmund's church is 14th century, according to the village's web site, though parts may be earlier. There were certainly earlier churches on the site, going back to Saxon times.
I attended Sunday services there just once, with my mother, ca. 1963. The congregation was sparse and old. The minister was beyond old. He may actually have been the first incumbent, recorded in the year 1223.
The main attractions of Hardingstone church in my childhood were:
- A horse-chestnut tree in the churchyard that yielded exceptionally good conkers.
- The grave of An Unknown Man, victim in "the blazing car murder" of November 1930. (See below.) The grave was marked by a lacquered wooden cross.
A hundred yards south of Queen Eleanor's Cross, on the east side of the London Road, Hardingstone Lane branched off, leading to the village, 1,500 yards along. (To the village green, that is; houses were strung along the lane well before that.)
The lane, little traveled and unlit, was rather creepy to us children, as it had been the site of a famous murder in 1930. (And was the site of another one in 1981, reported by my mother here.) There were fields on the south side, looking over to the Newport Pagnell Road and Simpson Barracks. On the north side, before you got to the first houses, there was a brambly ditch, then an old stone wall, behind which were the woods.
As children roaming the area, our usual approach to Hardingstone was not from along the lane, but via the Delapre fields and woods. The dotted line marked "FP" (for "footpath") on the map is the one we used. Emerging from Delapre Wood, it crossed that large field from northwest to southeast (my father played cricket with us in that field once) to arrive at the backs of some old cottages. There was an alley between the cottages, whence you came out on Hardingstone Lane.
(Incidentally, the small blob just north of that footpath, at its very beginning by the London Road, was a pond, where I spent many happy hours playing, collecting newts and frog spawn, etc. There was a byre on the edge of the woods near the pond, but not much used. Where the footpath crosses that stream on the way to Delapre Wood, was another favorite play spot. I remember many strenuous attempts to dam the stream, most of them of course ending with us getting soaking wet. North of the pond, that little six-pointed star symbol by the "P" of "BP" was a tumulus, but I don't remember its origin.)
The center of Hardingstone — the village green — was the little triangle in the map's bottom right-hand corner below the "P" (which I think indicates a post office). The road south joined the Newport Pagnell Road; the road northeast crossed a couple of miles of empty country before joining the A428, a main road from Northampton to Bedford, and hence "the Bedford Road" to Northamptonians.
Hardingstone village green is at 325 feet above sea level. The village actually occupies a north-pointing spur of the east-west ridge that Mere Way sits on. North of the village the ground drops away sharply. That northeast road, in particular, drops 100 feet in three or four hundred yards on leaving the village, a gradient of about one in ten — sensational for small boys on bicycles.
And well before I had a bicycle (which happened around age ten), I recall a day when my mother's sister Muriel came to stay with us. An energetic lady, Aunt Muriel took my sister and me for a walk to Hardingstone village, then through the village and down this steep hill. Traffic levels were practically zero on these country roads in the early 1950s, but we did meet a traditional old-style painted Gypsy wagon at the foot of the hill, one of the last I remember seeing. The owner I think was having some trouble getting his horse to pull the wagon up the hill.
(These country walks were a regular feature of adult supervision in mid-20th-century England. They were considered not only healthful, but also instructive. We were encouraged to take an interest in roadside plants and insects; then, later, in points of historical significance, old churches and the like. We were even supposed to take a sort of romantic ethnological interest in those occasional encounters with Gypsies, though the adults supervising us could never sufficiently disguise the fact that they disliked Gypsies and were slightly fearful of them. I was not very receptive to any of this, though I have always enjoyed long, quiet walks. One old church looked the same as another to me; and other than stinging nettles, which were to be avoided, and such items as could be incorporated into boys' games — keck stalks, from which whistles could be made, conkers, and so on — the vegetable kingdom held, and holds, no fascination for me. Gypsies struck me as filthy, stupid, and sinister — a straightforward reflection of the surrounding adult prejudices, as no Gypsy ever did me any harm.)