An Edwardian life in Muston
From the memoirs of Andrew Nugee
(editor Neil Fortey)
The information in this account has been taken from the private memoir of Andrew Nugee, and generously made available by Mr Julian Walker. Andrew was the youngest of the three sons of Revered Francis Edward Nugee, Rector of Muston 1903-1913, and his wife Edith Isabel (née Alston). Their children were: Elizabeth Catherine (born 1889), Laura Christine (b.1890), Francis John (b.1891), George Travers (b.1893) and Andrew Charles (b.1895). We are greatly indebted to Mr Walker.
Andrew Charles Nugee was born at the Rectory in Shelton, near Newark, on the 28th October 1895. In his memoirs, Andrew Nugee described life in Muston during the years his family lived in the Rectory, from 1903 to 1913. Julian Walker has kindly suggested we would find these memories interesting, as they paint a picture of Edwardian Muston and the life enjoyed there by the Rector’s family, their youngest son included. The impression is of an idyllic childhood, one we would all wish to enjoy, lived in what now seems to have been the twilight of the old world of imperial security and prosperity, before the Great War tore it apart. Of course, this impression depended on your point of view, or your position in society. There was growing unrest in many quarters, but none of this impinged on life in the Rectory to any great extent, though there was an occasion when strikes in the coal mines disrupted return transport from a day out in Nottingham, saved by a gallant Muston farmer’s son.
This account will start with observations from the Nugee’s time in the vicarage at Croxton Kerrial, 1896-1903, where life was very much like it would be in Muston.
Our family life at the vicarage was full of interest and simple pleasures, but at the same time the vicarage was the centre of the life of the village. It would be more to say that there were three centres of life in the village: the vicarage, the school and the church. My parents took a spirit of kindly concern in good times or bad from their own home life into the homes of the village, and spread an atmosphere of good fellowship. They found in the school an object on which to lavish their full care, for there, under the able teaching and sound example of Mr Prowse, the boys and girls of the village grew up to useful maturity. But at the heart of all our lives were the well-attended acts of common worship at the parish church, and from them flowed the grace which made life worth living.
The diaries are full of entries that record Mother going to see people in their homes – I think she was perhaps a better hand at this than Father was. He was always visiting the sick and dying and bereaved, and taking the Holy Communion to those who could not go to church. There were classes for Sunday School teachers at the vicarage, and meetings for the branch of the Mothers’ Union. There were Christmas parties at the vicarage for the Sunday School children and others. Father had a fine set of handbells, and he got together a band of men who came to the vicarage on winter evenings to play them. I can remember hearing them downstairs sometimes before I fell asleep.
Life was of course hard for most of our people. The friendly societies did what they could to alleviate hardship in times of illness and other domestic troubles, but we children were taught to understand that we had a duty to help our neighbours in their times of want. Many a time we were sent out … to take cans of soup and other food to widows and homes where there was illness.
Muston was at that time  a village of about 250 inhabitants. One family must have been there for generations as there were over fifty of the same surname, Topps. They provided two or three bellringers, a large number of the Cock and Hen choir [a choir with no youngsters, just older members] in the parish church, and I dare say that some of them taught in the Sunday School, a department of village life with which I had no connection. The village had a small green, on which was the base of the old cross with only a foot or two of its shaft left. There were two big farms kept by Mr Bonshor and Mr Lamming, a shop, a post office and the school. There was also a Methodist chapel, where young Mr Bonshor was the lay preacher in charge. He nearly always attended the parish church for Matins, concentrating his Methodist activities on Sunday on the evening service in his chapel. The parish church had nothing of special architectural note, but it was a fine if simple medieval building with a longish chancel separated from the nave by an ancient oak screen, without a rood loft. There were two aisles and a western tower with a spire in which hung four bells. There Mr Simms, our groom-gardener, presided over the team of ringers. At the east end of the south aisle stood the little pipe organ which Mother played for the services, with, at any rate in holidays, one of us three boys to blow. The mixed choir, unrobed of course, sat in one block of pews in the nave. Father’s stall was on the south side of the chancel, and opposite him in solitary dignity sat old Mr Tinkler, the parish clerk, who led the Amens in a loud and raucous voice. Father was a good choir trainer, and under his tuition the little choir reached a high standard: they could perform quite intricate anthems. At festival times Elizabeth and Laura used to play their violins, standing by Mother at the organ.
On the other side of the churchyard hedge was the rectory and its garden. This was our home for the next ten years. There was a drive, lined with chestnuts, which turned right to the front door and left to the stable yard. A kitchen garden was behind the yard. South of the house there were shrubberies, and a small lawn sloped up to the level of the field. Here were flower beds, which Father filled with roses. To the west of the house there was a good orchard where Father delighted to plant daffodils in the long grass, and in front of the house was a lawn large enough and level enough for tennis. The most notable thing in the garden was an ancient mulberry tree. Tradition said that it had been planted by George Crabbe, who had been Rector of Muston in the eighteenth century. One of the items which belonged to the rectory was his branding iron, with his initials embossed upon it. I wonder where it is now, as the house has not been a rectory for many years.
The rectory was a solidly built red brick house, rectangular in plan and of three floors; it did not have the interesting stairways and passages that Croxton had, but there were plenty of rooms for the family, B and the three maids. Friends often came to stay, of course. Some of them were friends of Father’s and Mother’s, much older people, and we tried to keep out of their way. But our favourite visitors were our cousins from South Wales, May and Daisy Morris. They started coming in the Christmas holidays at Croxton, and this practice they kept up for several years at Muston. They were very welcome additions to the family. They had a brother, Charles, a year older than myself, who sometimes came with his sisters, and he and I became close friends.
Two important items that had to be seen to on moving into a new house in those days, when there were no mains services, were the drains and the water supply. At Croxton Mother recorded in her diary at frequent intervals that one or more of us were in bed with bad throats, and that Mr Scot, the Duke’s agent, came to see about drains. Father took no chances at Muston, and extensive work in that department was carried out before we moved in. Except for the usual tonsil trouble, sore throats became more or less things of the past.
At Croxton the water supply, except for drinking, came from the Devon; it was pumped up to the vicarage by a ram. It was some time before I realised that this was a hydraulic machine which used the force of the flow to pump the water along. I thought how strange it was that an animal like a ram could do this for so long a time day and night without rest. But at Muston the domestic water depended entirely on the rain, which was collected off the roof into tanks in the attics, while the drinking water came from a pump by the school. Every morning Simms, the gardener, could be seen going off with a couple of buckets swinging from the chains of the wooden yoke across his shoulders, to draw the drinking water for the day, which was kept in large earthenware vessels in the larder. But the domestic supply was now to be taken from the Devon, flowing at the bottom of the field beyond the orchard. A donkey engine was installed in a small brick building on the edge of the orchard. Every week Father started it up and it was exciting to watch the tell-tale on the wall of the house slowly descending as the tanks filled up. This work was still in progress when we moved in, and it was a great thrill to watch the men at work with their machinery and pipes.
Most of the villagers drank the water out of the Devon. That little stream ran through all my first eighteen years. It flowed into the Trent at Shelton, beginning its career at Croxton, and here it was at Muston. I suppose that centuries of drinking from this source had rendered the people immune against the bacteria which must have abounded in it, as a few miles above the village it flowed past the kennels of the Belvoir hounds. On one occasion a cow got into the river just above the village and was drowned. Mother said to one of the old men in the village, ‘Surely, Mr Clifton, you don’t still drink that water?’ ‘Oh yes, Mum,’ he replied, ‘it’s just like beef tea now.’
There were two special events which have stayed in my memory: river trips on the Trent, when Father hired a steam launch and a skiff. On the first occasion we went from Radcliffe on Trent to Newark, and on the second from Newark to Torksey, and then down the Fossedyke canal, which the Romans had dug, to Lincoln. The return journey in each case was made by train. The railways in those days were quick and convenient and punctual, and the staff willing and helpful. The companies laid themselves out to attract custom: there were special tickets to Nottingham for the matches at Trent Bridge; cheap excursions to resorts on the Lincolnshire coast. There was a famous poster showing a ruddy-faced and smiling fisherman in sea boots and striped jersey, dancing along the yellow sands, with the caption ‘Skegness is so bracing’. Special trains ran from King’s Cross for a return fare of only a few shillings to Skegness. Of course there were no other means of long distance travel, but travel by train in those days was easy and comfortable.
Cycling took hold of us in a big way. We thought nothing of cycling many miles to a tennis party, play for several hours and then ride home again in the evening; and what care we took of our cycles, cleaning, oiling and mending punctures. Cycle shops were few and far between in the country, and whatever was needed we had to do for ourselves. When I was riding on the step of George’s machine to Bottesford, a mile and a half away, I learnt what happened when a moving object meets an immovable mass. I got tired of it, said that I was getting off, and did so, without waiting for him to slow down. Luckily I fell onto the roadside, but the resulting bump and cut on my knee taught me a useful lesson, though I learnt it the hard way. I learnt to cycle on an old fixed-wheel machine, which meant that my legs had to go whizzing round with the pedals all the time – and how I hated it. However, Father soon gave me a fine Raleigh with three-speed gears, and cycling became a real enjoyment.
The diaries begin to record the appearance of motor-cars. Visitors came to tea in them; occasionally Father and some of us went in a hired motor-car to Nottingham. Notice the word used is always ‘motor-car’. Then in the summer holidays of 1907 we had one actually to stay with us. The Rev. F.J. Stone, who was Social Tutor to John and George at Radley, came in his Darracq. It had a wagonette body, which meant that you opened the door at the back, let down steps and climbed in under the folds of the canvas hood. There were no doors to the front seats, so one felt the urge to hold on tight round corners. On the dashboard was a row of glass vessels full of oil, which dripped down into open tubes and so, I suppose, ran to the moving parts of the machine. It was a great thrill to have a car with us for a few days, and Mr Stone took us for several runs. Goggles for the men and veils for the women were the order of the day because of the clouds of dust which rose from the roads. Motoring in those days was of course an exciting and hazardous enterprise. The road surfaces were not made for rubber tyres and the Stepney wheel was an essential part of the equipment. This could be bolted on to the outside of any wheel which had been punctured, and so carry one, it was hoped, till one got home and could mend the puncture. Roadside garages were very hard to find and a tin of petrol was always carried in the back.
There were all kinds of other activities to occupy our time in the holidays at Muston. Nottingham was our centre for everything: dentistry and tonsils, theatre and cricket and every kind of shopping. Hardly a week went by, so the diaries show, without someone going there for some reason or other. One such visit ended in an unusual experience for Elizabeth. There was a nationwide coal strike in progress, and though the railway companies had laid in great stocks of coal, the strike had been going on for so long that stocks were becoming exhausted, and when she arrived at Victoria station to catch the train for Bottesford she found it had been taken off, and there would be no trains that way for the rest of the day. The railway was the only way to get back home, so she was in a bit of a quandary. However, she found on the station, marooned like herself, a young farmer from Muston, Tom Lamming. They decided to join forces and hire a cab to drive home in, some twenty miles. The only cab they could find was a hansom. This must have been one of the longest hansom rides on record, and what an interesting sight they must have been to the villagers on the road, a young couple sitting side by side: were they starting out on their honeymoon? Of course in those days of chaperones and all the proprieties it was a very risqué thing for a young lady to do
The Theatre Royal at Nottingham always put on a very good pantomime at Christmas, and touring companies came with the latest successes from the West End, mainly the musical comedies which were the life and soul of theatre-going at that time, with their catchy tunes and good songs. Grantham, too, had an amateur dramatic society and a small theatre. Here it was the well-loved Gilbert and Sullivan operas which usually gave scope to their skill. One light opera they performed was Dorothy, which attracted crowded audiences not only because it told of a romantic episode in the family history of the Dukes of Rutland at their Derbyshire house, Haddon Hall, but also because the popular huntsman Ben Capel, of the Belvoir hounds, had a walking on part with three couple of his pack.
The most important event was the annual summer outing. This began as a Sunday School outing to Skegness and rapidly developed into a general outing for everyone who could get away for a day. Two special coaches were booked on the usual train from Bottesford to Skegness, and Father took the greatest care to issue to each child a label on which all necessary information was written. Many of our people in the early days had never been further than Grantham, and to go to Skegness was certainly a journey into the unknown. It was not unusual for children on trips of this nature to get separated and so be lost, but I am glad to say that never happened with us. Skegness in those days was a very one-horse place. There was a pier with the usual batteries of slot machines and a concert party in the pavilion at the seaward end, one short and not very enterprising switchback, an old schooner drawn up above high-water mark, which had been fitted up as a maritime museum, and donkeys – and that was about all in the way of amusements. But the day-trippers swarmed into the little town from all over the Midlands and further afield, and generally speaking a good time was had by all.
There were of course masses of boarding houses, but only three real hotels, Hildred’s in Lumley Road, the Seaview on the front, and the Vine at the southern end by the golf links. There were a good number of shops, many dealing in souvenirs but some in more serious goods, and plenty of places where one could get a meal, one of them proclaiming proudly, ‘Everything you get here is Lincolnshire, except the pudding which is Yorkshire.’
The country parson was very much the leader of his people and the parsonage was the mainspring of most village activities. There was of course the school where concerts could be held and lantern slides shown, but practically everything that took placed was organised from or held in the parsonage. Our home was no exception. With large rooms it was ideal for the choir supper with games in the drawing room afterwards or, upstairs in the schoolroom, the Christmas tree for the Sunday School children and their parents. And what a tree it was. It was at least ten feet high, and Father had devised a special way of lighting it with candles, nearly one hundred of them, so that there was the least possible chance of anything catching fire – but there was always, ready to hand, a long stick with a sponge on it and a jug of water to deal with any trouble. It took us a good day to decorate it and what a glorious sight it was. The oohs and ahs of the children when they saw it showed what a wonder and delight it was to them