Bentley, Alec (O1993.3)

A conversation with Peggy Bentley (PB) and Alec Bentley (AB)

Interviewed by Peter Ruffles (PR)
Date: 08/04/1993
Transcribed by Eve Sangster, 14.5.93 with additions by Marilyn Taylor

Hertford Oral History Group

Recording no: O 1993.3

Interviewees: Peggy Bentley (PB) and Alec Bentley (AB)

Date: 8th April,(Maundy Thursday)1993

Venue: 21, Valley Close, Hertfordshire

Interviewer: Peter Ruffles (PR)

Transcribed by: Eve Sangster, 14.5.93 with additions by Marilyn Taylor

Typed by Eve Sangster

************** = unclear recording

[discussion] = untranscribed material

PR: I think it's the 9th of April or thereabouts. The year is 1993 and, yes, we're pretty confident it's 1993. 8th, is it? Maundy Thursday, 1993. Let's say that. 'Tis Maundy Thursday, isn't it?' Right. That's put an anchor on it. I'm at number 21 Valley Close, the home of Alec and Peggy Bentley, in the drawing room: afternoon tea, and Peggy is going to just mention one or two quick things to add to the picture we have of Grace Law. And to those who are fans of the archive of the Hertford Oral History Group, Grace Law has featured once or twice and we've come to enjoy her personality and feel that we know something of her character and, indeed, she made a tape which is said to have contained more laughter than the rest of the tapes in the archive put together, and, I think, that possibly is true. But it's for Peggy's memories of Grace in earlier years that we're here this afternoon to hear a little more about, and, Peggy, how did Grace come to be working for your parents?

PB: *********

PR: Well it doesn’t matter really, that is a very directional mike.

PB: How did Grace come to be working for my family?

PR: Yes, did you find her…………a sort of agency or something?

PB: No I don’t really know how she came to be working I just remember that she came to us when I was nearly 3 and my sister had been born about 2 months before and my mother decided she would like to have a nanny. She had been under-nurse at Brickendonbury with some people called Pearson who lived there and maybe my mother hired her on the grapevine from there.

PR: yes yes

PB: I remember her arriving and I was a bit apprehensive I was going to have a nanny I didn’t quite know what a nanny was!

PR: and she stayed with you for…….until you were ………

PB: She stayed with us for eight years so I was about 11 when she left

PR: was she living at the time with you, was it a live in job

PB: Oh yes rather she slept in the night nursery with us and my recollection is that nanny was there the whole time. I think she had ½ day on Friday’s and she must have had Sunday’s off sometimes. I don’t remember her having…..I mean she was always there.

PR: and she is still in touch with your family

PB: Oh yes she has always been part of the family. If there is anything happening in the family like a wedding or a christening or anything that she can come to she comes.

PR: Yes …so let’s have a picture of your home life into which she would have fitted then Peggy, how….where were you living?

PB: We were living in Hertford Heath in a house that belonged to the school .college Haileybury called Harling which has now disappeared at the top of College Road if you know College Road there are a whole lot of new houses there

PR: Yes where Margaret (and Roy) Archer lives

PB: That’s right well it’s on what was a bit of our garden I think and funnily enough we lived there later on after Alec and I married for a short time

PR: It was pretty big

PB: So that is the first home I remember

PR: Yes it was a big house

AB: Bigish

PB: Well a fairish house about the same size as this I should think with a very big garden and my father was teaching at the school I don’t know what my mother did because nanny looked after us I suppose she did the cooking and things

PR: Yes …so your father had been appointed to the school as a young

PB: My father came…yes my father came in 1913 and then of course the war came. I don’t know quite exactly when he went off to the war but it was before I was born in 1917 because he was away then and he came back in 1919 and we lived in Harling till 1923 then he became a house master and he went to what is now Allenby House just inside the main gates on the left. It was called Highfield then and nanny of course came with us.

PR: When she left you did she go on to another appointment?

PB: No because towards the end of the time she was with us she was courting Jim or Jim was courting her I suppose, and he used to come up and see her in the evening to sit in what was called the school room by that time, and then she married him but still stayed with us I think for nearly another year. She may remember how long it was and then she left and they went to 122 Duncombe Road and she has lived there ever since

PR: and there she is to this day

PB: to this day and she had her two children there

PR: She told us that she married at Great Amwell Church and that Jim's family were supportive but a little disdainful of……..

PB: I think they were yes I was too young really to understand that

PR: She has been chatting about that

PB: I heard about it afterwards

PR: Some difficulties that she had had with Mrs Law….

PB: Probably

PR: Yes odd bits and pieces but I was a bit surprised that they would have gone to Great Amwell Church

PB: Well you see Great Amwell…..Haileybury was in the parish of Great Amwell

PR: and so…

PB: and so I suspect ….well we usually went to the Chapel you see but in the holidays we always went to Great Amwell Church and so I imagine that my mother may have suggested that, I don’t really know ********** but that was our parish

PR: Yes that’s likely to be the explanation isn’t it ?

PB: I think so, I think also, I seem to remember that, my mother telling me that nanny was confirmed at Great Amwell Church so I think one set up a connection with it ****go you see

PR: ******* she has still a great love, a way with children I suppose one would say

PB: Oh yes yes

PR: When you see her now at 90 she is never quite as happy as when she is swinging a child in the churchyard

PB: I know

PR: After parish breakfast or something

PB: Well, when on our 25th wedding anniversary of course nanny was there celebrating with us and her great niece - she must be…was tiny then I mean, you know, only a few months old and bought to the celebrations and of course nanny spent most of the time nursing the great niece and we have got a photograph of her in the family group haven’t we.

PR: So what were her duties? I mean what would she have to do?

PB: Well when she woke up in the morning she got up and presumably got dressed and then got us up and then gave us our breakfast downstairs most of the time I can remember when we were at Allenby mostly in what was called the school room outside the nursery and then she looked after us, I don’t know what happened in the morning. I had started lessons and we had a governess and nanny must have looked after Mary in the mornings then and then gradually as we got older Mary joined in with the governess but nanny still stayed on till I was about 11 and she always took us out for walks in the afternoon and joined up with other nannies from other families you know so we went out in a troupe, that was quite fun. But the other nannies weren’t a patch on our nanny we didn’t think, absolutely not a patch, and then she came back and gave us tea and then we had to have our hairs brushed and look tidy and go to the drawing room to see Mummy, Mother, shouldn’t say Mummy should I! Then if they wanted time and my mother had had enough of us, she came and got us and put us to bed

AB: I think you need to say that your mother was catering for the whole house

PB: Oh I know when we got to Highfield Mummy couldn’t manage without her because all the boys in that particular house lived in the house so she has about 56 people to cater for or whoever came and there was quite a big staff to look after so really she needed nanny’s help. Oh yes Mum didn’t sit around doing nothing then!

PR: Good Lord, that’s a nice picture of the professional side of the early years. We have been talking to her about being a young housewife in Bengeo

PB: yes

PR: Before washing machines and things that were the trappings of today and she referred of course to her nannying with a touch of pleasure and pride rolled in, obviously a very important, er, for her, so seeing it from your point of view as well is a nice endorsement of all that

AB: I think you should say about your *********

PB: Susie and Zoe, Oh well yes. The Pearson’s had 2 daughters called girls, Susie and Zoe and nanny when we were naughty she always said “Susie and Zoe didn’t do that sort of thing” and Mary and I came to dislike Susie and Zoe very much (laughs)

PR: Yes .was she strict in … a sort of overt image

PB: No I don’t remember. We knew where we were with nanny we didn’t play her up but I don’t remember her being very strict or, I don’t know what it was about her she was a really lovely nanny and we both loved her very dearly and had a very happy childhood. I don’t remember feeling “Oh lor here comes nanny”

PR: when did Alec…..going away from Grace, come on the scene then? How did …were you appointed to Haileybury?

PB: He was a boy at Haileybury

AB: I was a boy

PR: and no real time away as it were? Other than during the war

PB: at Cambridge

AB: At Cambridge yes, 3 years at Cambridge, 6 years at war, then I was appointed back

PR: So your professional time at Haileybury, was which years, when were you appointed as a master?

AB: 1946 to 81 yes that’s right 1946 to 1981

PB: then you went to the girls

AB: but um

PR: yes yes

AB: I did, I say I can remember Peggy and her sister when I was a boy

PB: I don’t think you can

AB: Firstly remember seeing you at the opening of the dining hall

PB: Oh yes well I was definitely there and you were definitely there then. But I was away at school most of the time you were at school

PR: Then it was Christ’s Hospital for …..

AB: Four years

PR: Quite a long time then

AB: Yes four years *******

PR: I can remember you at St Andrews when I was quite a small boy, sat in the back quarter on the north side, that would have been I expect from Norman Smiths time would it?

AB: Oh yes I remember him

PR: Did you come to St Andrews for the churchmanship was that the ………..

AB: Yes

PB: You didn’t go to St Andrews before we met though did you?

AB: No dear

PB: You followed me to St Andrews

PR: Oh right………we will give credit where that is…..

PB: No no no no…

AB: The churchmanship really I think

PB: oh yes that’s why I went there yes

PR: Yes yes…..I remember………..trying to clear my own mind on things and times and wondering, if I had been teaching I think, in the school, I am sure I would have been sucked in to the ……..and I wouldn’t really know what was happening in the community around me but you made a definite sorti out for worship as well as.…. you were connected with the I won’t say political life……. or rather the community life of Hertford Heath.

AB: Yes, I was drummed into that by a chap called Riddell Smith. Do you remember …. have you ever …. Riddell Smith?

PR: No.

AB: Anyway, he was going to retire and he said, "Look, Haileybury must have somebody on the Parish Council, preferably a school governor. So he practically 'fixed it'. It was really rather a …. shameful election, really. But I got on to the Parish Council and became a school governor.

PB: That was **** for you

AB: Yes yes, oh, I was there for, I don't know how many, twenty, twenty-seven years something like that

PR: Was that Council really made up of Independents, irrespective of their underlying political ….

AB: Red Harrington? (Remainder of reply lost in laughter and confusion!)

PB: So the answer to that is 'no'.

PR: They had 'colours', didn't they?

AB: But, there were, I mean there was old ?????? Hicks. Leslie Wren, he was all right. And there were one or two others: a chap called Foster. But you had to be careful that the red flag wasn't flying too high. But, of course, generally, if you weren't careful you found the Parish Council was also the school governors. You had to be careful about that.

PR: Yes, so what …. so was it that Haileybury's initiative, as it were, that the school's initiative, that community mattered around it? Not having lived in such a place ….

AB: Well, I felt that. I felt a bit sorry that the school really didn't do an awful lot more. They did quite a lot in the village hall committee, Charles and one or two other beaks, and old Hargreaves with his old folks' home. He was on the committee of that. But there weren't really, considering the number of possible chaps, there weren't really enough.

PB: Doing what? Taking an interest in the village?

AB: No.

PR: Some village people were employed by the college, obviously, so there was …. that link was there, willy-nilly.

PB: Quite a lot of the wives belonged to the W.I. in my young married days. Keen WI’s. I was very fond of the W.I.

AB: You see, before the war, when I was a boy, most of the village was employed at the school.

PB: Oh yes, and I can remember that when I was a child.

AB: And they used to come to the kitchen and beg for some dripping and that sort of stuff, you know.

PB: And they all went home with bags, shopping bags, in their hands. Better not put that in, Peter! (Laughter!)

PR: No, it's curious because my family, as I've mentioned before, grandmother's family, were Hertford Heath people and my great grandfather built the cottage in Downfield Road. They used to call it “The Lane”, that leads from The Duck down to Gammells, next to the vets, where the Meads, Albert Mead, lives. The Meads bought that cottage from a great-uncle. As far as I can tell, that family of Childs, of which there are several others ………, didn't really have much to do with the college. None of them sought employment there. They were carpenters, most of the boys, my great-uncles, and my great grandmother ran a laundry from the outhouses of that cottage ….

PB: Really!

AB: Really!

PR: …. serving various other houses, St. Margaret's Bridge and places like that, collecting stuff and bringing it back to wash.

PB: What a labour ….

PR: Yes, but I think she was probably a sort of businesswoman, in a way, independent means, and not sort of locked into …. she was privatised, or privatised herself, rather than having a contract with any single big institution. But I'm a bit surprised, I can't really recall any Haileybury stories. Plenty of other things that they talked about. Women fighting over the water at the pump on the green ….

AB: …. the green was the place for fights, outside the old Two Brewers.

PR: Where was The Two Brewers?

AB: Well, you know where …. well, it used to be ?? Edwards. Opposite Wren's shop.

PR: Yes, the top bit of' Downfield Road.

PB: Yes, that was known as The Street.

AB: I was interested to hear all the references to fighting in Hertford. ?????? used to have a go on Saturday nights.

PB: As entertainment!

PR: A regular feature, scheduled almost.

(Further chat about gardens and vegetables and the Christian Aid Walk almost obliterated by interference on tape. Some of Peters remarks are audible but do not make enough sense to transcribe as ½ a conversation.)