Harry Knight's Memories of Harpenden before 1914

Written at the age of 100 in 1979

This was one of many entries to a competition organised by the Society in 1979 called “I remember … 1914”. 

Harry Knight’s manuscript, 1979

I, HARRY KNIGHT was born in Cravells Road Harpenden, on 1 March 1879. My father had a small builder’s business and kept a village store. We had no electricity, gas or piped water. We drew water from a well 120 ft deep by a windlass.

My father killed two pigs a week; many neighbours kept pigs. Sometimes a neighbour would tell my father that his pigs were sickly and father would then kill them and send them to the market. He would not sell them locally.

My father was a keen gardener and one year he won first prize for his allotment. Sir John Lawes came to see it. I heard him praise it highly and ask what manure was used. My father said “Night soil Sir John, I do not believe in artificials”. Sir John then said “They are useful but they leave nothing behind”.

We kept open house and had many interesting visitors. One was a Crimea War veteran; he said he raided a Russian trench and stole a fur coat, but it was alive with vermin. He had been reared in a workhouse and didn’t know if he had been christened. His wife wouldn’t marry him until he had been christened. He was christened one end of the church and married the other end.

Another visitor was an Indian Mutiny veteran. He had run away from his apprenticeship in London and joined the Marines under a false name. His wife would not marry him until he had changed back to his real name.

My father was one of the Councillors elected for our first Council [in 1894].

I and my brothers attended the British School; my eldest brother paid 6d, myself 4d and my younger brother 2d a week. If we were absent or late without leave or note from our parents we were fined 1d. We had to buy our stationery, pens etc.

John Henshaw, Headmaster of the British School, Leyton Road – from Frank Salisbury painting – HC 0156

Our schoolmaster, Mr J Henshaw, was a strict disciplinarian. He would walk down a clean road through the park to the back entrance of the school and go to the front to inspect the boys as they came in. If a boy’s shoes were dirty and hadn’t been cleaned, he would send him home to clean them and he was fined for being late. Mr Henshaw used the cane freely but he was much respected and admired by the parents and boys.

He was very keen to have the boys speak correctly. I remember on one occasion a boy was asked to read out a hymn. The boy read “dark and chairless is the morn”. Mr Henshaw stopped him and said “Then you have not got any chairs today. Come out here”. He pointed to a chair and asked the boy what it was. The boy replied and said “That is a cheer sir”.

‘Bristle Hall’ c.1880-90, on Stakers Lane, demolished in 1890s: now the corner of Victoria Road – DS- HC 0156

There have been many regrettable changes in the village. The cottages on the north side of Station Road in the village have been replaced by shops. The old name of the road was Stakers Lane.

The Cock pond and smithy have gone, also the cottages on the west side of Church Green and the cottage between the national school and the church. It was smothered with Maiden Blush roses in the summer.

There was a house and large garden on the south side inhabited by Mr Lockhart, now replaced by tall houses and shop.

The common has altered a lot since 1914. The Silver Cup pond with its island and willow tree has gone. I understand that after it was cleaned out it wouldn’t hold water. I expect that was caused by the draining of the roads, causing the water being channelled away.

The common also has deteriorated. There were 2 or 3 flocks of sheep grazing on it in the summer which kept it fertile. There were much larger areas of furze and bracken. Some of the dells had rushes and choice ferns growing in them.

I enclose my last copybook, by which you will see by the inspector’s reports what a good schoolmaster we had. I am afraid you will have difficulty in reading this. My eyesight is not good. Sorry.


Pat Nevell – 1934-2016


This was one of many articles typed by Pat Nevell for the Society’s Newsletter and for Eric Brandreth’s publications. Pat died in August 2016, having given much service to local history as well as to many other organisations in Harpenden.

A typical page – presumably copied from a book.

Comments about this page

  • Harry Knight’s copybook has recently come to light again, as we sort and catalogue the Society’s collection. It has been added above. His handwriting changed quite a lot over the intervening years.

    By Rosemary Ross (20/10/2017)
  • This man was my great uncle. I live in Nelson, New Zealand. My grandfather was Alfred David Knight born in 1881. He married Minnie Sophia Gray. My aunt wrote to Harry until he was in his 90’s. There are several families of descendants in New Zealand and Australia.

    By Margaret stewart (25/02/2017)

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