The Thurlows

Village News & Information

Village people

Villages are not just collections of houses. It is the people who live in the villages that give them their identity. The Thurlows have inevitably had their fair share of characters and some of the stories that follow have passed into the folklore that is the village.

Millie Talbot (Amelia Hayes)

Millie was the daughter of the labourer from Barnardiston called John Mayes and his wife Elizabeth Mary Carter. Millie lived until 1927 and had a reputation as a healer. It is thought that she was a gypsy child and accordingly she had a close association with the gypsies all her life. It is reputed that the gypsies put a special friendship mark on Millie’s door. Millie lived in the house next to the shop near to Crown Hill. Millie married George Talbot and had 13 children, 8 of whom survived. Some of her gypsy cures included: curing coughs, bronchitis and chest troubles by rubbing hedgehog fat on your chest, and curing chilblains by placing your feet in a bowl of your own urine. As well as being known as a healer or a whit witch, she also acted as the village midwife. Her other talents included swarming bees by collecting them in a container as she banged a kettle on a pan. She also kept a pet jackdaw on a string in the garden that used to peck the legs of the children as they came to draw water from the village pump which was situated in her garden.

Elizabeth Webb

Elizabeth Webb is the author of two poems about Thurlow that appear in the village exhibition. These pieces describe eloquently the pace and kind of peaceful life that she enjoyed when she lived in the village. She ran a small private school from the house that is now known as Wheatsheaf Cottage. Then it was known as the Manse and she taught Elizabeth Frink and members of the Ryder family, amongst others.


Mrs Pemberton Barnes (Mother Barnes)

Mungo Lodge was her home and she also owned all the Mill property. She also owned a Dance Hall that was situated in her garden. She was an eccentric character who walked about with a ‘spud’ – a narrow bladed spade. She used to organise an outing for the children of the village every year. She would hire a coach from Longs of West Wratting and it would be parked alongside the lime trees opposite her house and she would stand by the door and hand the children each a sixpence as they clambered aboard for the trip to Clacton-on sea. She also organised trips to Newmarket with a hamper and once again a sixpence to spend in Woolworths at Eastertime.

Sue Ryder in her autobiography describes her early life at Great Thurlow and includes some lively anecdotes concerning Mrs Barnes. Mrs Barnes organised a trip to the Derby and handed Mrs Ryder a large bunch of red, white and blue flowers with an instruction to present them to Queen Mary. The absence of a funeral bier for the Thurlows also taxed her so she insisted that one should be constructed and that the bier, covered in the Union Jack, should process through the village, followed by a service in Little Thurlow Church. Eight hymns were then sung in quick succession and Mrs Barnes and the exhausted choristers headed for home.

The dance hall was also used for election meetings and at one Mrs Barnes appeared bearing ‘a very heavy box of apples which she then proceeded to throw thick and fast at the party on the platform’.

The Smith Family

One of the families known to have been in Little Thurlow for almost 200 years is the Smiths, and although the Smith name itself can no longer be found, direct descendants still live in the village. Joseph Smith and his wife Elizabeth were both born in 1802 and were married in 1826. They had four sons and three daughters, and in the 1861 census they were to be found living at Overgreen Farm (in the area behind Tara in Little Thurlow Green). Two of their sons were recorded as being agricultural labourers like their father, although their eldest son William, born in 1829, proved to be more adventurous, and emigrated to South Australia in 1854. Their youngest daughter Mary left the village to go into service.

Their son John Smith (born in 1839) spent all his life in Little Thurlow, marrying Eliza in 1858. They lived at Temple End and had four sons and two daughters. John was widowed when his youngest daughter (Kate) was born. In later life he lived at Locks Cottage, where two of his grandchildren were born to his daughter Harriet. All of the children born to Eliza and John are buried in Little Thurlow churchyard and extension, except William, the eldest, who left the village to work in the brewing trade in Burton-on-Trent.

John and Eliza's second son Thomas was born in 1861, was married to Jessie, and was a blacksmith working in the smithy that stood in the Square opposite Driftside. His daughter Eliza married Dick Sargent, who for years was the village builder and undertaker, and their son Fred continued in the family business at Brookside until the 1970s. Fred died in 1993.

Tom and Jessie ended their days in the middle almshouse, next to brother John, who had lived previously next to his sister Kate, in cottages that have long since disappeared but which were alongside Mill View. Kate married Jerry Wright, and they were the parents of Dora Rowlinson, who lived in Porch Cottage. Their son (Herbert) spent all his working life working at Manor Farm. Dora's grandson, Paul Atherton, is the sixth generation to live in the village, and he carries on the unbroken tradition of working the land.

John and Eliza's daughter, Harriet Smith, born in 1866, married Charles Webb from Great Bradley, and made her home in Little Thurlow Green, first in the Old Thatched Cottage, and later at Green Farm Cottages (now one half of Blackbirds Cottage). They had four sons and four daughters. Three sons served in France in the 1914-18 War. Sergeant William John Webb was killed, but Frederick and Harry, who was a signaller, returned home from the front, as they were needed to work on the ploughing engines. They and their father Charles were among the first in the area to work these engines. Fred left Little Thurlow to drive one of the first steam lorries for 'His Master's Voice' Record Company in Hayes, Middlesex. The four daughters and the youngest son all went to London to work in service.

Harry stayed and married Winifred Smith (no relation) of Withersfield in 1924, and they lived with Charles, a widower, at Green Farm Cottages, where they had three daughters and two sons. Harry spent his working life on the land at Little Bradley, Church Farm, Little Thurlow and later on the Thurlow estate. Living in a tied cottage meant a move to 147 The Green, now Fair Rig, for the job at Church Farm. After a further four years, they moved to 2 Council Houses, before in 1953 becoming landlord and landlady of the Red Lion, now the Old Inn. After ten years they made their final move to Rose Cottage in Little Thurlow. Their daughter, Iris Eley (née Webb) is the only remaining member of this branch of the family still to live in the village.

John and Eliza's son Fred (born in 1869) married Jane and raised ten children in the Thatched Cottage by the almshouses on the Bradley Road. His son, another William (born in 1900), spent all his life working at Manor Farm for the Tilbrook family. Bill and his wife Louie lived at Locks Cottage, where his father had once lived. Bill was a real character, who rang the church bells, kept the boiler going, took the collection (singing on his way), dug graves and kept everything neat and tidy.

Four generations of the Eley family following the maternal line have lived in Little Thurlow. Bill, Derrick and Eileen (Rooks) are Thurlow -born, as was their mother Alice (née Dearsley). Their father, Harry, was the son of Elizabeth and Arthur, who lived in the Square (now 116b). Harry served in the 1914-18 War winning a medal for bravery in the field, and he received a cup for the best pair of horses in the Royal Field Artillery. Sadly, his life was shortened as a result of the gas attacks in that war. Eileen served for four years in the Second World War, finishing as a corporal.

The Dearsley family had a long connection with the Little Thurlow Post Office. Martha Dearsley, née Rogers, ran it when it was situated in what is now Trudgetts. This business later moved to 122a The Street, when the postmaster was Alec Sadler who was married to Martha's daughter Bessie. They ran the Post Office until it closed in the late 60's. Martha's father William Rogers was the post master before this.

Derrick and Eileen were both involved in the work of the Post Office in their time. Derrick used to deliver telegrams as far afield as East Green in Great Bradley. He once accidentally dropped the keys inside the post box when collecting the day's mail, much to his uncle's disgust. Eileen, too, did her stint by delivering mail for eight years until the early 50s.

The Rowlinson Family

John Rowlinson, grandfather of Jack Rowlinson who lives with his wife Doris at "Driftside", took over the "Cock Inn" in 1912. The "Cock" then remained with a succession of Rowlinsons until 1971. John was succeeded by his brother (Jack's Uncle Orris), then by Jack's father John in 1922 whose eldest son Sydney followed him from 1949 to 1971.

The second John Rowlinson had seven children. Sadly, their eldest daughter Edna Smith was killed in a road accident involving an army vehicle in 1941.

John (II) farmed the fields at the rear of the "Cock Inn", with stock including pigs and chickens. He was also a haulage contractor for West Suffolk County Council, using three horses and carts at first, then adding two lorries for his work on the roads.

John also did quite a lot of taxi work using the various cars he owned during his years at the "Cock". Doris and Jack have records of the taxi service from 1924 including the charges, which were quite expensive. These include many journeys by the vicar, various families and well-known people, usually to the station, and also the Misses Day. There were very few cars around at this time and it is thought that his was the only car in Thurlow at one period.

Adrian Taylor recalls the story that one evening in the 1920’s he had to go to meet a train in Haverhill and went to see if he had enough petrol in the Tin Lizzie. There was of course no petrol gauge in his car, so John took the usual means of light in those days – a candle- but as you may have guessed, while directing the light so he could see in the petrol tank, the candle fell out of the holder into the tank and blew up the car.

Jack tells the story of Brigadier Frink always bringing two men and two horses home when he came on leave during the war. These were lodged and stabled at the "Cock". Brigadier Frink also owned and rode a retired racehorse, which Jack used to exercise for him.

Jack's wife Doris was the daughter of the village policeman, Tom Hart, before she married. She has memories of the various families who ran the village shop. Jack remembers the Purkis family of whom Doris only has vague memories.

The Brown Family

The Brown family must have been around in the early to mid 1930s. Mr. Brown appeared as a very mysterious man, always dressed in dark clothes, wearing heavy rimmed spectacles. Mrs. Brown was a very polite, educated and talented lady, a very good pianist and singer. Apparently over-generous when serving customers, she had been known to give money back.

Mr. Brown was terrifying to children, as they always peered through the glass door to see if he was about or was there alone before entering the shop for errands. He was apparently a commercial traveller who would disappear for weeks and his wife would be unaware of his whereabouts. Mrs. Brown made frequent visits the local police station complaining of ill treatment by her husband, although it seems it was a love/hate relationship, as on many visits they were quite happy together! They were not in Thurlow for many years. It was reported that Mrs. Brown committed suicide after they left Thurlow; apparently she put her head in the gas oven.

The Browns were followed by Mr. and Mrs. Hale. Mr. Hale was quite a character (very outspoken) and the correct approach was most important when making a purchase. It was fatal to say, "Have you got a certain item?" His reply would be, "Mr. Hale has got everything". This being wartime we didn't always get what we wanted!

Mr. Hale and his son made excellent bread and pork pies. Jack remembers Mr. Hale letting Fred (his son) deliver the bread with a pony and trap around Cowlinge and Bradley East Green areas. Fred did the local deliveries on a trade bicycle.

In later years Mr. Hale's eldest son took over the business and kept the shop open for a number of years. Sadly, after Ernest Hale left it ceased to remain a shop.

The Day Family

"Here lies the Daye that darkness could not blind..." is the beginning of a memorial inscription in Little Bradley church to John Daye, the famous printer (he printed Foxe's Book of Martyrs and was one of the first English music printers). He was born in Dunwich in 1522 and died on his way to Little Bradley in 1584.

His second wife was Alice Le Hunt, by whom he had 13 children, but we only know about two of them: Lionel Daye who was provost of Eton and John Daye who was vicar of Little Thurlow from 1622 to 1627. According to the family bible, the Day family are descended from John Daye and Alice Le Hunt.
Further records reveal that William Day lived in Rectory House, Great Bradley with his wife Joanna Seeley Day (née Pettett). He was born in 1788, married in 1813 and died in 1873. His fourth son, Richard Pettett Day, became the shop keeper in Little Thurlow, running a drapers and general store where Corner Cottage is now. In 1853 Richard married his first cousin Mary-Anne Day from Winteringham in Huntingdonshire. They had eight children, four sons and four daughters. The eldest son James emigrated to Australia, where he was murdered on his way back home from the bank on April 27th 1906. The second son William Osborne moved to Leicestershire and married Louisa Jane Goodacre; Thomas Day remained at home, dying at the age of forty seven; John the third son died from influenza at the age of twenty whilst studying at Oxford to enter the church. Tamar, Joanna and Elizabeth all became governesses and returned to Thurlow in their later years. Agnes, the youngest daughter, became a governess for a short time and then during the First World War was a nurse at the military hospital at Netley in Hampshire. She was one of the first physiotherapists!


The Atherton family

One of the best-known families in Great Thurlow was the Atherton family. The family was large and Frederick and Kathleen Atherton had fifteen children, many of whom have stayed in the village. One of their daughters, Kathy Crooks, has written a short piece describing their life, as follows:

‘Frederick and Kathleen Atherton (Freddy and Gert to all who knew them) lived most of their married lives in Great Thurlow. Gert was born in Withersfield, one of six daughters of Tom and Martha Notley. Freddy was born in Gt Thurlow at the Glebe, a house behind the windmill up in the fields, and was the youngest child of Mark and Florence Atherton.

On leaving school at the age of 13 Gert worked for the Tilbrooks at The Rose &Crown in Great Thurlow and Freddy worked in the shop at Little Thurlow for Mr Purkis.

Freddy and Gert got together and married in 1919, both aged 18. They set up home in The Square in Little Thurlow and then began their hard and happy life together. Work was hard to find and by 1923, with three daughters , they were becoming desperate. Then one day the Reverend Basil Fleming of Great Thurlow offered Freddy a job for 30 shillings a week (of which Gert had £1.7s.6d. and Freddy had 2s.6d). This partnership with Rev. Fleming lasted 27 years.

In 1929, now with six children, they moved to Great Thurlow at Church End. Freddy looked after the church, was a bell-ringer, pumped the organ, lit the fires and sang in the choir. The key to the church was also kept at his house (and is still there today, his sons being the custodians).

Freddy and Gert struggled and never had new clothes or a holiday. Freddy would have his holiday time paid in potatoes during the war, and he worked on the land for Great Thurlow Hall to avoid being called up in the army. By 1939 they had twelve children. The baker would call three times a week and leave 15 loaves every time. Having a large family was looked down upon and they had a hard time, but they were suddenly very popular in the war when everybody wanted their clothing and meat coupons.

Freddy was in the fire service during the war. Things were now looking up a bit as several of the elder children were at work and Gert cleaned the church and the school. By the end of the war they had 15 children – 11 of them were boys and later on half the Thurlow football team were Athertons!’