Poor People's Houses
stood on a gentle rise in the flat, wheat-growing north-east corner of Oxfordshire. We will call it Lark Rise because of the
great number of skylarks which made the surrounding fields their springboard and nested on the bare earth between the rows
of green corn
All around, from every quarter, the stiff, clayey soil of the arable fields crept up; bare, brown and windswept
for eight months out of every twelve. Spring brought a flush of green wheat and there were violets under the hedges, and pussy-willows
out beside the brook at the bottom of the 'Hundred Acres' ; but only for a few weeks in later summer had the landscape real
beauty. Then the ripened cornfields rippled up to the doorsteps of the cottages and the hamlet became an island in a sea of
To a child it seemed that it must always have been so; but ploughing and sowing and reaping were recent innovations.
Old men could remember when the Rise, covered with juniper bushes, stood in the midst of a furzy heath - common land, which
had come under the plough after the passing of the Inclosures Acts. Some of the ancients still occupied cottages on land which
had been ceded to their fathers as 'squatters' rights', and probably all the small plots upon which the houses stood had originally
been so ceded. In the eighteen-eighties the hamlet consisted of about thirty cottages and an inn, not built in rows, but dotted
down anywhere within a more or less circular group. A deeply rutted cart track surrounded the whole, and separate houses or
groups of houses were connected by a network of pathways. Going from one part of the hamlet to another was called 'going round
the Rise' , and the plural of 'house' was not 'houses' , but 'housen' . The only shop was a general one kept in the back kitchen
of the inn. The church and school were in the mother village, a mile and a half away.
A road flattened the circle at one
point. It had been cut when the heath was enclosed, for the convenience in fieldwork and to connect the main Oxford roaed
with the mother village and a series of villages beyond. From the hamlet it led on the one hand to church and school, and
on the other to the main road, or the turnpike, as it was still called, and so to the market town where the Saturday shopping
was done.. It brought little traffic past the hamlet. An occasional farm wagon, piled with sacks or square-cut bundles of
hay; a farmer on horseback or in his gig ; the baker's little old white-tiled van; a string of blanketed hunters with grooms,
exercising in the early morning; and only one of the old penny-farthing high bicycles at rare intervals. People still rushed
to their cottage doors to see one of the latter come past.
A few of the houses had thatched roofs, whitewashed outer walls
and diamond-paned windows, but the majority were just stone or brick boxes with blue-slated roofs. The older houses were relics
of pre-enclosure days and were still occupied by descendants of the original squatters, themselves at that time elderly people.
One old couple owned a donkey and cart, which they used to carry their vegetables, eggs, and honey to the market town and
sometimes hired out ar sixpence a day to their neighbours. One house was occupied by a retired farm ballif, who was reported
to have 'well feathered his own nest' during his years of stewardship. Another aged man owned and worked upon an acre of land.
These, the innkeeper, and one other man, a stonemason who walked the three miles to and from his work in the town every day,
were the only ones not employed as agricultural labourers.