Bare knuckle fights and dung heaps.

Memories of life in Datchworth in the 1920s

Coltsfoot Farm, Datchworth

Peg Newman

These are notes made in various conversations with Mr ‘Peg’ Newman (Mr C A Newman) (c 1968) (Interviewer not known)  

In the 1920s when Mr Newman first came to live in Datchworth it was very clannish. People were very proud of Datchworth and the fact that they came from Datchworth. It might get might take ten years to get accepted as belonging to Datchworth.  

Manners were tougher

 Mr Newman recalls a bone knuckle fight between two men stripped to the waist. It took place on the Green, at the Post Office end. A crowd turned out to watch it. A quarrel had arisen in one of the pubs, between a Datchworth man and a man from London one Saturday night, and they agreed to fight it out in a proper match the next morning. They’d had too much beer to fight it out there and then. The match was fairly conducted; there was no further talk or quarrelling. The Datchworth man won pretty quickly. The other man was knocked down several times, and agreed he could not go on. They shook hands and made friends.

Navvy knots

Clothing of those days would look very old-fashioned now. All the men wore ‘navvy knots’ round their necks, even with their Sunday best.  

Cottages and shops

There were six cottages on the Green at the West end. Two where the Pages live (Tudor Lodge?); two at the house called Rose Cottage. Mrs Hornett ran a shop where the Priestmans now live. There was more of a village centre round the church. The Policeman Formerly lived in one of the Council Houses near the Church.  

Shopping and roads

People did most of their shopping at village shops; no car trips to Knebworth, Stevenage etc. In 1926 there was still a gravel road along the Green. The road to Watton was little more than a cart track with grass down the middle. Mr Newman remembers bicycling to fetch some medicine soon after his arrival and he particularly noticed the road on that occasion. 


On one farm (Mr Little’s where Mr Newman worked) only 2 tons of artificial were used on the whole farm and that only on green stuff. Directly after harvest dung would be spread on the land. Dung heaps 10 ft high were piled up at various points. They were known as ‘dungles’. There was one outside the cottages at the Post Office end of the Green. As many as 5000 cart loads of dung would be spread on a farm. Truck loads of horse manure would also be brought from the London Brewers who were still using horses. There was also a plentiful use of chalk from the chalk pits, as can be seen from various old chalk pits around Datchworth.  

Farming: workers and horses

You could see as many as a hundred people at work in a field at once, on such jobs as picking up potatoes. Gipsies were really useful at certain times and would be allowed to put their vans on fields, as agreed by the farmer concerned. Some of the gipsies were good and well behaved people, but they lived their own lives in their own way and had no use for living in houses. In the nineteen twenties plough horses were of course much in use rather than tractors. On one farm for instance there were six plough horses and one faulty tractor. There were seven or eight horses on Mr Little’s farm. Vincents of Luton ran very well known horse sales. A good farm horse would fetch up to a hundred and forty guineas. Men would take alternate turns at doing essential work on Saturdays and Sundays. Looking after animals, milking etc.  


 In the main firewood had to bought, not collected. Foresters controlled the woods and cutting of firewood, but rotten wood could sometimes be collected free. Large wood piles were to be seen on the Green at the Post Office end.

Water Supply

Water came in the early 1920s. There were several large taps with bulldog (or lion?) faces. Their places may have been by the Chapel: by the Pages house (Tudor Cottage): near the whipping post: at Bridgefoot: at Paynters Green. They were apt to freeze up in hard winter.  


 Voting used to be at the School and in the 1920s, people were already being given lifts in cars to take them to vote.

Work: gravel pits, inns and the blacksmith

 Gravel pits at Waterford, Digswell and where Lidseys now live (between Hollybush and Baines Lane). Used to be a matter of very hard work: pick and shovel. Inns then had two lorries 12 men and horses and carts. Mr Miller sometimes had casual work-assistance. The forge continued till end of World War II. Mr Newman remembers giving help as special war-time orders for large numbers of small parts. Payment was in bags of firewood as well as cash.  


Naturally in the 1920s very few cars. Bus on Saturdays from Ware to Chequers (at Woolmer Green). George Currell, the carrier, ran a ‘bus of his own, which would make trips to Hitchin, Hertford and other places for special occasions. There was motor racing at Royston. Young men were quite ready to walk to Welwyn Garden City and back on a half day to pay a visit to the Cinema etc. For years Mr Newman made a regular cart trip to Hertford etc: with a load of potatoes: twice a week.  

Datchworth oral histories  

In the late 1960s, a small history group got together and interviewed some of the older Datchworth residents who, in many cases, had memories from the 1920s.  

There were no taped interviews but notes were made in long hand and in some cases typed. These notes have recently been transcribed for Herts Memories.

This page was added on 01/02/2012.

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  • Really enjoyed reading about Datchworth.I knew Peg Newman.I lived next door to his daughter,in Nutcroft.

    By Christine Flitney formally Taylor (28/04/2014)