‘Where on earth is East Hatley?’
A question I asked myself in 2012, when I first discovered this quirky little village in South Cambridgeshire, and a question I have been asked many, many times in the intervening ten years.
I moved to East Hatley from Harrow, in north-west London, and the contrast could not have been greater. Busy suburb to quiet leafy village. Sounds idyllic, and it was idyllic. As a young boy, growing up and as a teenager, I had always visited the village of Brattleby, in Lincolnshire, for annual holidays and East Hatley made me feel as though I were re-living those holidays from years before.
▲ Click on the photos for larger versions; photo credits at the bottom of the page.
Despite there no longer being a pub, there was (and still is) a village shop and lots of open spaces – what could be more perfect?
Nature has been a big aspect of living in East Hatley. Fantastic sunsets over the trees at the far side of the adjacent field, the deer emerging from the trees and standing or running in the field, as many as thirty of them at any one time, the occasional fox or muntjac spotted sneaking across, the amazing, and beautiful, red kite soaring and swooping overhead, and the fantastic changes in the scenery over the seasons.
Having bought a house (with Linda Hudson) in these tranquil surroundings a few changes became necessary. The field adjacent to the house had to be fenced, to keep the dogs in and the deer out. No easy task with all the tree roots hindering the positioning of fence posts, and despite the digger being used ending up in the ditch next to Banks’ field, the job was completed, and the dogs had an enormous area in which to run and play.
Several smaller trees, and a dovecote, had to be removed as the dogs, officially known as sighthounds, are completely oblivious of any obstacles in their path once they start running.
In the early days, several events were held in the field, with people bringing their dogs along and attending barbecues, and the like, to help raise funds for various dog charities. There have been up to thirty cars parked in the field on these occasions, although some were at risk of losing their exhausts on entering and leaving via the roadside gate.
Many additional changes were made within the house and eventually, after several weeks, the quiet returned with the completion of the building works.
Subsequently, chickens, bantams, ducks and two pygmy goats (Melody and Melissa) were acquired, to go with the existing six dogs (ex-racing greyhounds) and two cats, to provide a significant menagerie to be looked after. This led to the construction of a stable, to house some of the animals, and further forays into the South Cambs’ planning department.
With the acquisition of the egg laying fraternity a small business was started, with the selling of eggs from the roadside, and by delivering to the locals. Everybody seemed very appreciative of their ability to obtain fresh free-range eggs and the side line flourished. (Now sadly no longer available due to the reduction in chickens from old age – and the attentions of Mr Fox!)
Any Roundheads or Cavaliers?
The adjoining field has been the source of much speculation. Had there been a building upon it at some stage? Was it the site of a burial pit for the dead of a local Civil War battle between the Roundheads and Cavaliers?
Nothing certain is known but when an archaeological dig was carried out in the field in September 2015 a layer of charcoal, the result of an earlier fire, was unearthed at about one metre below the surface. Also, several old artefacts were uncovered, but nothing sufficient to provide a definitive answer to the field’s history. There’s more detail about the four Hatley test pits dug in 2014 / 2015 in the ‘Archaeology in East Hatley‘ report.
A lot of my time in Hatley has been heavily connected with the village hall. I was on the committee of the Hatley Village Association, being chairman for some time, which was responsible for organising the village fête, holding quiz nights, and generally arranging communal functions within the village. Sadly, the HVA has fallen by the wayside.
I was instrumental – with others – in arranging the replacement of the kitchen and boiler in the village hall in 2016, the installation of the handrails by the steps in 2020, the refurbishment of the toilets in 2022 and, also in 2022, getting the clock repaired and working again, after many years.
In 2018 I also put forward the suggestion of a public defibrillator, which, after much discussion was installed in a cabinet outside the village hall. Initially there was reluctance to this proposal, but the parish council agreed this was something the village could not do without. Fortunately, the defibrillator has had little use, but it is there should the need arise. If it helps save one life it has been a worthwhile investment.
Unfortunately, I had a heart attack, three years ago, just before the installation of the defibrillator but, thanks to the splendid NHS I was transported to Papworth, stents inserted and in a hospital bed, all within three hours of ringing 111.
We are so fortunate to have such excellent emergency services at Papworth and Addenbrooke’s on our doorstep.
The paper round
There were five of us villagers who did a paper round for years, only being ended by the onset of Covid, which would see us driving into Gamlingay to collect the papers at silly o’clock, summer and winter, one day each week and on every fifth Wednesday. I got lumbered with Saturdays, which always had the heaviest newspapers needing to be delivered, but it was a great system and sadly missed.
In 2018 I put my name forward to be a parish councillor, against the five existing councillors, but I failed, only narrowly, to oust the incumbents, but an exercise worth undertaking and it consolidated the right of the others to be on the council.
Recently I have joined the Gamlingay and Hatleys Car Scheme to assist those less able to attend their various medical appointments. After the help I received after my heart attack I felt it was time to put something back in helping others.
At harvest time there was always the problem of the farm vehicles having to negotiate the narrow road that is East Hatley, especially with the parked cars causing further restriction, to reach the fields at the end of the road. This caused many an argument between tractor drivers and irate residents and on one occasion almost came to blows.
Due to subsequent negotiations, and the removal of the badly parked cars, a more amicable arrangement now exists, where the residents are advised in advance when harvesting will be taking place.
Early in the year a pancake race is held outside 34 East Hatley. This has not always been blessed with good weather, one year the wind destroyed the erected gazebo and another the torrential rain ceased about ten minutes before the race was due to start. However, this is usually well attended by the locals and much enjoyment has ensued, with prizes to the successful participants.
Street parties too
There have also been two street parties in East Hatley: in 2016 to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday and 2022 for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – the earlier one very well attended and long running, the latter less well blessed due to the inclement weather.
These social functions bring out the true nature of village life when many assist in preparation and attend in support. There is much chat and laughter and general feeling of community, something to be further encouraged in the future.
Before moving to the village a ‘millennium directory’ had been produced of the existing local residents, which was a great introduction to who was who, and gave a detailed background to the make up of the village. The question had been posed ‘Are you town or country?’ and the replies were fairly equally divided in their response.
We had the intention of re-producing the directory a couple of years ago but with the onset of Covid, and the more current use of technology, for example WhatsApp and the Hatley Facebook page, that plan has been put on the back burner. Perhaps the idea might be resurrected, but that will now be down to someone else to organise.
Reading to Ishbel
I was sat at a social function, hosted by Margot Eagle and Mark Wilsher, when Ishbel Beatty (our local historian) sat herself down next to me. Now I knew Ishbel, but not that well, so I was mildly surprised that she would wish to speak to me. We chatted generally for a few minutes until she asked if I would be prepared to read to her. She was suffering from macular degeneration and finding it very difficult to read papers and articles which interested her, was looking for some kind soul to read to her and selected me!
Thus started a splendid relationship, which lasted for eighteen months until Ishbel, and Simon Keith, left the village to move to Retford in Nottinghamshire in 2018. Ishbel would select items for me to read to her, which I would do for about forty-five minutes, and then we would fall into a general discussion about the history of the village and generally putting the world to rights.
I often felt I should have had a tape recorder with me as the discussions were so interesting and the details of the history of the village would be lost with Ishbel’s passing. Sadly, I never did the recordings, but some fascinating things were discussed.**
I still keep in touch with Ishbel, at ninety-five still an amazing raconteur, and I asked her recently why she had chosen me to read to her. She replied that I had a clear, and (surprisingly) kind, voice. Not bad for a lad originally from ‘norf’ London.
I am sure there are many other aspects of my stay in East Hatley which I could write about but those above are the major recollections of my time in the village. I shall miss it all, the buildings, the countryside, the tranquillity but mostly the people. I will try and keep in touch, I will not be that far away, but you will be my abiding memory.
** Ishbel had many articles on Hatley’s history published in the Gamlingay Gazette, now reproduced on this website along with several of her poems – just search ‘Ishbel’, Ed.
Wanted – your memories!
If you have Hatley memories you’d like to record and share, please get in touch with Peter Mann.
After all, history is made of memories and if we don’t write them down now, who in 10, 20, 50 years’ time is going to know what Hatley was like in the late 20th and early 21st century?
Please get writing – it can be a complete article or a few snippets to go into a wider article.
Page created 20th July 2022.
Top row, left to right
Peter Mann / Peter Mann / Peter Mann / Peter Mann
Row two, left to right
Mervyn Lack / Mervyn Lack / Linda Hudson / John O’Sullivan
Row three, left to right
Mervyn Lack / Peter Mann / Peter Mann / Peter Mann
Row four, left to right
Peter Mann / Mervyn Lack / John O’Sullivan / Peter Mann
Row five, left to right
Linda Hudson / Joyce Denby / Mervyn Lack / Mervyn Lack