The Jolly Puritan

Sitting just off the High Street, on Dunkel Walk, the short road that leads up to the old Parish church of the old market town.  That is where you find it.

Ancient town, more like, as ancient as the church.  Which came first is a great concern for the town’s historians and amateur archaeologists.  Currently the balance is on the side of the town as being the older.

Debatable, as they count the original hamlet that was raised by the Vikings and razed just a few years later by a rival clan.  It seems that after a short period of destruction between the two sides they finally compromised, intermarried and set about the real enemy, the Angles.  And the resultant town was started.  Christianity intervened at the same time and a bespoke church was built.  So the new town and new church of Burnthorpe were born.

We still have two sides of the same coin, as it were, early Viking versus later Viking and as in all old centres of population: the memory is still strong.

So, strolling up Dunkel Walk you can see the low roofed church with its cream, lime-washed walls and the stone buttresses on each corner.  You can see the stumpy little tower above the hefty main doors with its wooden bell-tower atop.  It may be unique, or at least rare, with its thatched roof and fully weather-boarded sides.  In daylight it looks, sadly, like a small shed with its thatch and a chicken silhouette of a weathervane.  Usually bell-towers are open to allow the sound of their peals to ring clearly across the town and fields, in this case the tower was muffled during the civil war and has remained so for the passing centuries.

‘The bells that toll in darkest night
May call the Royalist into sight.
If be muffled into sleep
Then safely shall the village keep.’

The village remained safe though no-one is sure for whom the verse inscribed on the porch was actually meant.  One thing proven was that several Puritan militia men were boarded at the nearby inn through most of that war.  The self-same inn was called ‘George and Dragon’ up to the Restoration and then, once Charles II was settled on the throne it was surprisingly renamed the ‘Jolly Puritan‘.  Now, centuries later, the pub remains, unmoved, mostly unrestored and creaking with echoes of the past.

Reach the church at the top of the hill with its stone wall around it and the graveyard.  The grounds slope gently downhill to the right as a narrow lane, Church Lane, leads you down to the Vicarage.  The lane is also short, the graveyard wall is overhung with tall horse-chesnut trees.  In the spring the verge is stuffed with ‘a host of golden daffodils’ (as one of the church-wardens insists on quoting at every opportunity) and always a plentiful supply of blackbirds that ruffle the leaves and detritus in the grass.  On the other side of the lane are the backgardens of the clumps of cottages still surviving from before the Enclosures were introduced.  Their picket gates interlaced with hedging of hawthorn, blackthorn, brambles and finally a small silvered line of birch behind a low stone wall closing off the end of the lane.  Over the low stone wall, looking through the silver-clad copse you will often see sheep grazing safely on the greensward slopes.  A view almost bucolic.

The Vicarage is on that cul-de-sac, which may have been noted as you first turned into it as the road sign pinned to the church’s graveyard wall signalled: ‘Church Lane. Dead End’
Another little sign of dispute for the Parish councillors.

Nothing for it but to return by the same route, maybe investigating the church, especially if unlocked, as inside it is simply dressed and decorated with a beautiful medieval stained-glass window behind the altar and two others, small lancet windows, each on north and south walls and designed by Alfred Smollson shortly after WWII.  Once outside, back down the gentler slope, passed the pub with the large sign hanging at its eaves and the smaller, pargetted, buildings opposite, to reach the High Street again.

The sign, creaking if breezy, depicts on one side the well-known image of a black-draped Puritan with apparently awhite lace doily as a bib, implacably clasping a bible; while on the other side is a leather-clad yeomanry Puritan soldier holding a tipping, foaming tankard and obviously bibulous.

Very little moves on the Walk and Lane except the few visitors to the church and it’s surroundings or the just-mentioned houses.  Owners and visitors park their cars in the so-quiet street.  Once a week a brewer’s lorry comes and the drivers bump barrels off its back onto sack-bales and roll them into the half-door at path level. They use parallel lengths of towing rope to slow the roll of the barrel down the wooden slope built from the cellar floor up to path level.  The reverse process is used to pull the empty barrels up and out.  Of course, not forgetting the regular and casual visitors slipping through the pub door itself.

On the High Street the buildings have been modified and a very few demolished and rebuilt in more current style.  Plaster covered wattle and daub nestles with brick and Georgian buildings.  A couple of mid-twentieth Century constructions with their two upper mock-tudor storeys badly balanced by their modern plate glass frontages below sit near the corner.  Along further and the New Road crosses the ‘T’ of the High Street and it is here the world splits into the Twentieth Century for Burnthorpe as along each side of this new thoroughfare was built ‘The New Shopping Street’ to cater for incomers.  Here are the latest shops, pizza places, assorted fish and Chinese and Indian establishments; the library, the police station and the bus station. Behind that the new housing estate, the street lighting and schools.  Some older inhabitants of the town still never walk this road.

At the junction of old and new roads stands the ‘Waddle Stone’ on its island, protected by a knee-high chain on heavy cast posts.  Another place of interest for historians.

After a gentle stroll to inspect the Waddle Stone the best option is to turn and stroll back to the Jolly Puritan. This time, as you turn the corner, the man sitting sternly on the sign sways a little, the Bible slips in his hand and eyes follow as you push the door and enter.


The Twinkle Twins, a brief description

Eve and Agnes Doublegate, with their father Albert were quite famous in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.  Their father helped guide, frequently guard, his two daughters whilst acting as their manager, musical arranger and accompanist.  In fact he is seen as the force behind the developing of their variety and music-hall act alongside frequent appearances in G&S operas. The twins were especially visible when playing together as two of the ‘three little maids’ in ‘Mikado’.

3 little maids pic

image from old poster but not Twinkle Twins & V.

Christened Eve and Agnes, their billed name was ‘the Twinkle Twins (and Albert)’ and their stage names were Verity and Vanity.  I am not sure which was which, in fact they deliberately switched names and roles, often mid-act, much to the confusion of Albert.  The question is, was it part of a well rehearsed act?

Well, Agnes, in her reminiscences at the age of 90 insisted they had only done it to “exasperate” Albert mid-show if he had been over-protective the previous night.  She said they would only swap names once in a show and sometimes take on the other’s routine and deliberately mis-cue, for their father’s irritation. They were a singing, dancing and topical music act but liked to throw in plenty of pointed comment and satire on events and people of the day.  Agnes claimed she was Verity and Eve was Vanity, names chosen because they flowed well and fitted the opposites of their actual characters.

Eve, born 1898, Agnes in 1899 ( not twins then!) their mother died when they were six/seven and the twins spent even more time with their father in his peripatetic life as pianist and arranger for music-hall and shows. Full performers by the age of 14/15 they found themselves invited into the house-party circuit as well as music-hall and G&S.  They were introduced to the party weekends after entertaining at a small gathering at Saffron House just before the start of WW1 and continued their saloon-cum-vaudeville-cum-cabaret act through to the late thirties, when their father died. Their appearances on the stage petered out rapidly afterwards as they had matured and times had changed but they continued with occasional stately-home parties, basically entertaining old friends. They frequently entertained the troops in WW2, especially the hospitalised and recuperating, an activity started in the Home Counties in WW1.  From the start of the Great War, initially through military contacts around Windsor they were invited to perform at temporary local military hospitals in the likes of Cliveden and Chequers and even the hastily erected hospital huts in Windsor Great Park.

Beautiful in their youth and prime, consistently cheerful and bubbly, with voices that could fill any song with meaning.  From cheeky vaudeville to romantics of the day and many a war-time favourite, their songs garnered popular appeal. They could vary their acts for the audience and always raise the dullest of crowds. Their effervescence endeared them to any audience and their ability to be outspoken and critical was leavened by their sense of fun and downright quality of voice.  They leave no recordings.

Agnes, in her recollections, would often mention their early years, just before and throughout the First War when they were invited to many big houses and met political and military figures of the day, balanced by their visiting injured soldiers.
“We were so fond of Ernst (Herrenberg), he and Charlie (!) helped get us known.  It was nice when Veronique could join us but she had other fish to fry”. She also recalled meeting the war-artists Francis Dodd and Paul Nash and another, an Alfred Smollson (unknown).

Note: Veronique (Beauchene) was frequently the third little maid in G&S before WW1 and occasionally performed in their country house ‘cabaret’. A great and lifelong friend of the Twinkle Twins but her stage career dwindled as the war proceeded.  Considered a rare beauty in her day, of French and German parentage but actually born in England and very English despite her slight French accent.  Most of her early life lived in England with summers in France, until the Great War.


Wordparc Copyright 2014

Busie Warboys, a brief description

Busie Warboys,  a brief description
at The Jolly Puritan

“Welcome, welcome! Sorry, we are a bit quiet tonight but I’m here if you need a chat and a beer.  Or I can keep everso still and you won’t know I am here. Goodness, did that rhyme?  It’s a habit I really must lose but I have been trying for what seems forever and it doesn’t get a tiny bit better!”

Alfred Smollson stood at the bar and blinked as the rotund man had appeared as if bouncing off the wall rather than through the gap from the lounge bar. Luckily the barman, the ‘licensed victualler’ as it stated in somewhat vague lettering on the grimed brass strip across the lintel of the outer door, was well used to people being surprised at seeing him.  He corrected his position to the middle of the space behind the old bar and looked up at the stranger, Alfred, as he would get to know.  His back was gently touching the lip of the shelving behind him and his belt buckle was just scratching on the old brass drip trays under the service bar, ready to catch the frothy overflows from the beer taps.

Busie, for that was his name and it matched his attitude despite his stature, looked up at his latest customer.  His view framed by the truncheon-like handles of the pumps.  The brass collars on these were bright and spotless, higher than but matching the colour of Busie’s wire framed spectacles.  His eyes were glinting, his head shiny with the beads of sweat sitting between the short, sparse but still corn-gold hair.  Alfred noted that the barman’s head was small, exaggerated because of the thick shoulders and barrel chest pushing down to the mighty girth of a very short man.
Feeling the surprise had passed the barman spoke again,

“I’m Busie, can I get you a drink, on-tap beer or a gin and pink?”

Alfred took the ten shilling note out of his back pocket and laid it on the wooden surface.  “Walnut?” he said to himself looking at the patterning of the surface but just loud enough for the barman to hear, “If you’re busy I can wait for a bit,” he said casually.
“No, I really am Busie, ‘ave been all me life.”
“Okay. Stout?”
“Always been that too, and short, “bit like a teapot eh?”.  He grinned up at Alfred.

Alfred always had a haphazard regard of his surroundings, sometimes slow to appreciate and at that moment he was just lost.
“Bitter, half-pint. Thanks.”

Busie looked at Alfred, continued the eye contact as he gripped the side of the bar and pulled himself up onto his toes, pushing his belly harder into the tray. As his head rose slightly he pushed it towards Alfred and spoke in a hoarse stage whisper,

“Not anymore; and I do the short jokes!” then proceeded to pull the beer.


Wordparc copyright 2014