Oral history interviews have been carried out with a cross-section of local people in Thame. The programme has been running since May 2007; some 40 people have been interviewed so far and their memories kept for posterity. This initiative started by talking to individuals who had lived in Thame all or most of their lives, and in some cases were in their nineties when the recordings were made. Sadly, several of these people have since died, but their memories can still be listened to and appreciated.
The recordings cover a range of local subjects, places and events. Many of the interviews have been edited and some 500 separate clips have been taken from the original recordings. Some of these have been placed on the two Audiopoint machines in the museum's main gallery; others have been used as part of the Lord Williams's School exhibition and the Evacuees' exhibition held in the museum in 2009.
In order to provide a flavour of the oral history programme, clips from the following 16 local residents have been put here on the museum's website. A few words have been written on each person to provide a setting for their recollections.
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Marilyn was born in 1929. During the Second World War Marilyn came to live with her grandmother in Thame and went to the Girls Grammar School. Her grandmother owned a ladies underwear and
millinery shop near the Town Hall. Marilyn passed away on 4th August 2010.
The recording was made on the 16th January 2008.
Marilyn recalls her grandmother coming to 112 High Street, Thame in 1923, and describes changes to the building over the years.
Wooden panelling inside the building, problems with the chimney caused by a wartime bomb, and the effect this had on the coal fire.
Marilyn's grandmother travels from Thame Station to London to buy stock for the shop.
Stocktaking in the shop took place on the 20th January and is a long and complicated process.
After the War, Marilyn cannot get in to Edinburgh University and comes back to Thame and eventually takes over running the shop. In her spare time Marilyn becomes involved in the early days of the 'Thame Players'.
Putting on plays at the Town Hall in the 1960s and 70s, with the help of the Council, before the Thame Players move to the Church Hall in Nelson Street in 1977.
Maurice was born in 1912 and died in December 2008 at the age of 96 having spent nearly all of his life living in the town.
When Maurice left school he wanted to be a bricklayer but he was unable to find work and spent his early life as a gardener.
After spending nearly three years as a prisoner of war in Changi Jail in Singapore, Maurice returned to Thame and joined the family decorating firm. He became a voluntary fireman and attended many fires in and around the town.
The recordings were made on the 16th May and the 25th July 2007 when Maurice was 95 years old.
Local characters - ‘Posh Price’ has a tame rat which he uses to trick unsuspecting ladies in North Street into giving him money, and Pincher Wells’s dog takes meat from outside a local shop.
Maurice is involved in shooting down a stricken German plane, returning from bombing Liverpool and on its way back to Germany.
Maurice is at sea when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour, ends up on Java, and after three months is eventually captured by the Japanese.
From Java, Maurice is taken to Singapore. After taking advice from an army medical officer not to work on the Burma Railway, Maurice is taken to Changi Jail where he remains a prisoner for nearly three years.
Maurice is there when Lord Louis Mountbatten enters the Changi Jail to receive the formal surrender of the Japanese forces in this region at the end of the Second World War.
Maurice was a voluntary fireman and describes a fire at the old post office at Long Crendon, near Thame.
Joy was born in 1912 and died in February 2010 at the age of 97. Her grandfather was James West, who started a bicycle shop and later a car business in the Upper High Street. She was educated at the Girls’ Grammar School and later at a Convent in Paris. Joy worked at the BBC where she met her husband Alfredo Campoli, who was an internationally acclaimed concert violinist.
The recordings were made on the 4th July and the 18th July 2007 when Joy was 95 years old.
Joy recalls her early life up to the age of five, the outbreak of the First World War, the move to Thame, the death of her brother through pneumonia and the death of her father in East Africa. Joy starts boarding school at the Girls' Grammar School.
Joy and her mother live together in Thame in the Upper High Street. Recollections of market day and the muffin man.
Remembering John Fothergill and the Spread Eagle Hotel in the 1920s.
Joy leaves school at the age of 15 and then lives in Paris for a year studying at a 'Finishing School' which turns out to be a Convent. Tea is allowed for the English girls.
Joy gets a job at the BBC and is asked to take down in shorthand Sir John Reith's speech of welcome to the staff working in the new Broadcasting House building in Portland Place.
Alfredo Campoli was an internationally acclaimed concert violinist. During the war years, Alfredo plays for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), which entertained troops and war workers.
Alfredo's mother is very ill and dies in her nursing home just before Alfredo is due to play the Elgar violin concerto.
Joyce came to live in Thame from nearby Shabbington in 1936 as a child. She worked in a number of jobs including a local bakery, in service at Towersey Manor as a parlour maid, and at a packaging firm in Princes Risborough. During the war years, she worked with barrage balloons and later serviced aircraft instruments, bomb sites and autopilots. Joyce lived for many years in Park Terrace opposite the Corporation Yard.
The recording was made on the 23rd January 2008.
Joyce comes to live in Thame at Easter in 1936 and attends the National School. At 14 Joyce works for Howes Bakery from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm.
During the War, Joyce experiences working in a team controlling a barrage balloon and explains all the details.
Aircraft accidents during the War. Joyce moves to many different airfields servicing aircraft and eventually leaves the WRAF in March 1946.
Corporation Yard in Park Terrace is a working yard and includes a stable for the horse that pulls the dust cart around the town.
Trevor Cook was born in Benson in 1929 and moved to Thame in 1933. He attended Lord Williams’s School until 1946 and then studied architecture in Oxford. Trevor has many recollections from his younger days of life in Thame and worked for a number of council and private employers prior to his retirement.
The recording was made on the 1st November 2007.
Trevor was born in Benson. His mother was a District Nurse and his father was a painter, decorator and builder. Trevor’s mother is asked to work in Thame and the family moves soon after, and Trevor’s father works at Rycotewood College.
Trevor starts working for Oxfordshire County Council Planning Department in the ‘old marmalade factory’ in Park End Street, and describes going to work on the 82 bus.
Trevor learns to be self sufficient during the war years. Trevor’s father was a civil defence instructor in Thame and is involved with the bomb that explodes where Greyhound Walk is today.
Trevor describes wartime activities on the Cattle Market and nearby areas during the war years. Tale of an unexploded bomb transported from London back to Thame.
Mick Crowdy was born in Thame in 1935 and his family has lived in the town for many generations. He tells tales of his life growing up in Thame during and after the war years. Mick worked for many years as a painter and decorator and painted many buildings in the town centre.
The recording was made on the 19th March 2008.
Early days in Thame when everyone knows everyone else and the town boundaries are well defined. War time and the bomb that lands behind the Town Hall. Air raid shelters in the Upper and Lower High Street car parks.
No real possessions during the war years because of rationing. Large number of troops in the Thame area prior to D-Day in 1944. Personal possessions, tins of food, ammunition and slip-on shoes are dumped in the town when the troops leave.
Thame is an agricultural town with two blacksmiths and much more local employment. ‘Old Thame people’ feel that they are special and life has changed since earlier days.
Mock battles in war time. Part of an aircraft wing is left in a tree in the allotments and aircrew are killed in the crash at Kingsey Park. Another aircraft crashes in fields where the Chiltern Vale housing estate is now.
Memories of the war and the blitz in London, and the ‘glow in the sky’.
Mabel was born in 1910 in London but spent most of her life in Thame. She worked as a cook for many years at Thame Park and describes conditions living and working in a large country house. There was little time for relaxation. Mabel has vivid recollections of life in Thame during the 1920s and 1930s.
The recording was made on the 19th September 2007 when Mabel was 97 years old.
Mabel was born near Dulwich in 1910, then lived in West Ealing for a short while, before moving to Towersey and then to Thame at the age of eight and a half. She attends the John Hampden School until the age of fourteen, and then starts work at Thame Park a couple of years later.
Mabel starts work at Thame Park in the early morning and helps to prepare breakfast, followed by lunch and the evening meal, with very little time off.
Recollections of the October Fair, horses for sale, men in smocks looking for work for the following year, and the market in the centre of the town. Mabel appears in a pageant at the age of 10.
Recollections of local shops in the town, plus Percy Blunt, the ‘midnight milkman’ whose horse and cart knows where to stop for deliveries.
John Hussey was born in 1931 in the house where he still lives. He joined H. and C. Pearce and Sons, who were wool staplers, at the age of sixteen. John has been involved in the wool trade all of his working life and has seen fundamental changes in the business following the introduction of synthetic thread.
The recording was made on the 26th September 2007.
John talks about the changes in the wool industry since the 1950s. In earlier days all ‘colonial wool’ came to London to be sold, but now Japan and China take all of the wool.
During the war years many areas of land and local buildings are used for military purposes, including Thame Mill Laundry, the Spread Eagle Hotel, the Prebendal, the old workhouse and the Tithe Barn.
John recalls Home Guard practices which take place at the Prebendal on Monday evenings, the air raid shelters, trenches dug at the back of John Hampden School and on the recreation ground, and static water holders throughout the town.
Thame Station is very busy during the war years with troops, evacuees, diverted trains, and moving bombs and ammunition around the local countryside.
Jack had ambitions from quite an early age to be a woodwork teacher and was able to attend Loughborough College during the war years
under Edward Barnsley. He came to Thame in 1950 to work at Rycotewood College and for a time was a Resident House Warden.
Throughout his retirement, Jack maintained his interest in wood working. He passed away on 21st April 2011.
The recording was made on the 13th February 2008.
Jack’s early life and education in Wakefield, Yorkshire, and his decision to become a woodwork teacher.
By the time Jack is about to leave school, the war is on and an advert appears for an apprentice pattern maker.
Jack works as a pattern maker. At the age nearly 21, he gets a place at Loughborough College on the understanding that he would not get called up for war service, and works under the direction of Edward Barnsley.
Jack comes to Rycotewood College in September 1950, helps to set up craft education, and explains how agricultural engineering came to be at the College.
The boys on the course come from Oxfordshire and Durham, and could be described as ‘children in need’. The furniture the students make is sold locally and the money used to support the College.
Andrew went to medical school in Oxford and University College Hospital and qualified in 1956. He was a General Practitioner in Thame until his retirement in 1994, but has also held many other academic positions and has many related interests. He served on the Town Council for 25 years and has been very interested in maintaining the character of the town.
The recording was made on the 28th November 2007.
A Joint Health Centre is discussed in the late 1960’s and is subsequently built on a field next to the Cottage Hospital in East Street and is opened in 1971.
Andrew becomes interested in the future of the town and is one of four similarly-minded residents who are elected to the Thame Urban District Council in the 1960s. They are keen on preserving the character of the town as a nice place to live.
The four new councillors try to influence how much the town should grow and start a ‘conservation committee’ as buildings are being knocked down or dramatically altered. The old historic Girls’ Grammar School building is knocked down the day before the Conservation Area is designated.
Andrew has lived in the town for 47 years and still enjoys living in the town and appreciates the feeling of community.
Andrew looks after students at Rycotewood College and is sad to see it go. It is a good asset for the town and the students produce some very good work. Some students lodge with the Markus family.
Ray and Phil Shewry moved to Thame from Buckland in 1936. They describe their early recollections of school, the evacuees arriving, youth activities, their common interest of local sports, and their vivid memories of many local events in the town.
The recording was made on the 6th February 2008.
Mr Purser’s warehouse in London is bombed. Father changes job and the family moves to 10 Bell Lane. Ray and Phil describe the house.
Early experiences of John Hampden School and memories of Miss Groves, who had travelled all over Europe. At the age of eight Ray is singing Russian patriotic songs.
Evacuees arrive in Thame and the new children become part of the school.
There are plenty of youth activities – the White Crusaders and a camp at Weston-super-Mare.
Phil describes the local hockey players in Thame, in particular Joan Barton, John Hussey and Les Yates.
Phil talks about the popularity of table tennis after the war and the youth club culture. The club has had many homes in halls and pubs in the town.
Arthur was born in 1912 and spent part of his early life in northern France. He became fluent in French and returned to England just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Arthur joined the Special Operations Executive and was parachuted into northern France in 1942 and describes some of his experiences, including working with the French Resistance. For his wartime work in France, Arthur was awarded the Freedom of the City of Lille in 1998 and the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 2005.
The recording was made on the 6th July 2007 when Arthur was 95 years old.
Arthur is involved in sabotage work, including the railway workshops at Fives Lille. Plastic explosives are used to destroy machinery in the workshops. Arthur leaves the area by bicycle.
The railway workshops are demolished and the Germans are unable to maintain railway transport. Michel, who was leader of the Resistance, goes back the next day to check the damage and takes photographs to prove that the workshops have been destroyed. This saves Lille from bombing by the RAF and the risk of civilians being killed.
Arthur is a radio operator but he also works with the French Resistance on sabotage work.
Arthur is involved in any sabotage work which stops the Germans from being able to move around northern France. This includes damage to viaducts, canal locks, bridges and tractors that pull barges along the canals.
The Germans are unable to find the saboteurs. Arthur is caught by the Germans following a raid looking for rationing coupons. Michel is killed in 1943.
After the raid, Arthur goes to Claude Bagein’s house. The Germans come and Arthur hides under the stairs; he and Claude are arrested and taken to prison in Lille. They maintain their story that they are involved in ‘black market’ activities.
Fred was born in 1914 and died in December 2007. He travelled to Thame from South Shields to look for work at the time of the Depression and remembers the poor conditions in the north-east. Following war service in the Army, Fred worked for many years at the Chinnor Cement Works. He enjoyed ballroom dancing all through his life.
This recording was made on the 14th June 2007 when Fred was 93 years old.
Fred’s relates his early life in South Shields, including three years at the local grammar school. At the time of the Depression there is little chance of getting a job. Fred hears on the grapevine that there is employment in Thame and comes down by train to look for work.
The miners in South Shields are on strike for six months in 1926 and suffer badly. They have no income and rely on credit from the Co-op to survive.
Fred walks three miles across fields to Crendon Tile Works and works for ten hours a day in poor conditions.
Thirty men, all from different backgrounds and different parts of the country, meet when joining the Army. Fred is the smallest man but is able to cope with the training.
Fred takes up ballroom dancing in South Shields at the age of 16, and has enjoyed dancing all through his life in Thame and nearby villages.
Fred was born in West London, went to school there and trained as a cartographer before joining the Police Force. He came to Thame in 1966 as the Police Sergeant. After 25 years in the Police, Fred retired and then spent the next 15 years as the secretary of the Thame Show. During his adult life, he has been able to follow his other interests playing jazz and also classical calligraphy.
The recording was made on the 20th February 2008.
Fred comes to Thame to take up the position of Town Sergeant in 1966, which is generally recognised as being ‘a bit thankless’. The main task is to ‘keep the job moving’ as smoothly as possible.
The area covered is relatively small – just the town and the immediate area. Being ‘on call’ is an important part of the job. There are two sergeants and the first priority is to keep the station open.
Following Fred’s retirement from the Police Force, he discovers that the Thame Show needs a Secretary, and applies for the job.
As well as being the Thame Show Secretary, Fred is able to indulge his other interests of being a jazz musician and also classical calligraphy.
For many years Thame Show never had its own site and had been held on a variety of sites. Eventually, the Show purchases land at White’s Farm on the Kingsey Road.
Cecil was born in Camberwell, London, and educated in London. He qualified as a Professional Associate of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in 1956 and came to work in Oxford and live in Thame in 1960. Cecil was appointed as a magistrate in 1967, became Chairman of the Bench in 1993, and retired in 1998 after 31 years service. He has been involved with Thame Round Table and the Rotary Club and was a Town Councillor for three years.
The recording was made on the 8th May 2008.
Cecil describes the history of the development of the County Court, leading up to the opening of the new building in 1861. Magistrates have used the Court House exclusively since 1984, until the local Court was amalgamated with the Oxford Central Court in 2003.
A number of headline cases have been heard at the Magistrates’ Court, including damage done to the Old Thatch by the Oxford University Dining Club.
All cases appear first in the Magistrates’ Court, including murder, but serious cases must then be transferred to be heard in the Crown Court. Bail conditions can be granted by the Magistrates’ Court.
Changes to the layout of the Court took place when Cecil was a magistrate, and this proved to be a better arrangement.
Keith was born in Prestwood in 1936 and moved to the bakers shop in the High Street in 1949. In 1958 he trained as a butcher in the Covered Market in Oxford but, as a result of his father’s illness, decided to leave and take over the bakehouse in Thame. Keith ran the business until his retirement in 2002 and describes all the changes that have taken place over the years, including important finds during the 1970s.
The recording was made on the 27th August 2008.
Keith recalls his father starting work at 4.00am making bread, rolls and cakes for the shop. The dough is made by machine although in the early days the ovens were heated by burning ‘faggots’ and then clearing out the ash before baking the bread.
During the 1960s Keith keeps chickens as a way of making money. He and Beryl buy their first bungalow in Chearsley. Keith tries his hand at growing mushrooms.
In 1975 Keith finds some important artefacts during work on the roof of Wright’s Bakery. Keith’s daughter finds an Elizabethan shilling.
The bakehouse is enlarged fivefold to cope with the growing business. To compete with supermarkets in the town in the 1970s and 1980s, Wright’s bakery starts selling cheese rolls which proves to be the beginning of a successful takeaway business.