Arthur Clear: A Thousand Years of Winslow Life

This lecture given by Arthur Clear in 1888 is a shorter version of his book published in 1894.

The full text, transcribed by Peter Thornton, is available in .doc format following the layout of the original: Arthur Clear 1888 (231 KB).

Or you can follow the links below to read sections of the text in .html format.

For more about the author, see Ed Grimsdale's article on Arthur Clear.

We have also transcribed a lecture which his son A.J. Clear gave in 1932, whose text was published in the Buckingham Advertiser: Old Winslow.

Cover of A Thousand Years

This article, which seems to be by Arthur Clear (or his son A.J. Clear), was published in the Bicester Herald, 20 June 1879


Fifty years ago, the small market town of Winslow presented a marked difference in its manners, customs, and street architecture to those of the present time.  Although a really slow place, Winslow has made some strides to keep pace with towns of equal importance.  The houses, with a few exceptions, are of late construction, and the site of the whole town is a health giving and refreshing eminence.  The streets might be always pure and clean were it not for the defiling films of a cow market held in the centre of the town and “at which the nose is in great indignation.”  The said cow market is, however, the great institution for which the town is noted, inasmuch as, once when I was some miles from home, a stranger asked if Winslow were not a celebrated place? I wondered, and was then reminded of the remarkable cow market.  It might be well to qualify the assertion of the streets being generally clean and spruce, for, during the past winter, the roads were never in the remembrance of the “oldest inhabitant,” so filthy with mud and slush.  It must, however, be remembered that never before were there such extensive sanitary operations.  The late discomfort and unsightliness may be looked on as only the necessary consequence of measures, which will, no doubt redound to the happiness of the community. 

The limits of the town were considerably smaller than now.  The site of the railway station was a field enclosing the Station-road, and the course of the railway was a broad expanse of greensward enclosed in large and luxuriant meadows.  Coming down the street, past the Union Poorhouse, was a brick kiln, and on the other side of the road several fields.  We then arrive at “Cheapside,” alias High-street, 50 years ago ycleped “Hell-end.”  There a deep ditch ran alongside a small close, in which the refuse and rubbish of the town was deposited.  The habitations of the people commenced some yards lower down, the style of building being still noticeable in the immediate neighbourhood.  The National School, dating 1841, is the first modern building on that side of the road, and shows how much has been added to the town since then.  On the opposite side was the warehouse for deteriorated humanity, and its present aspect might give some idea of the comforts which were enjoyed by exhausted manhood, whose vitality was hardly sustained by the dole of water porridge meted out to the unfortunate inmate.  Such was the parish workhouse of long ago, when confinement in the cage was Elysium, in comparison, when the prisoner, free from the cares of getting bodily sustenance, smoked his pipe at ease, and found time to necessarily shave and purge himself of his filth and dirt – then, by the aid of friends outside, could he take his usual stimulating draught, to cheer the monotony of the day; unlike his unfortunate neighbour in the poorhouse, he felt himself a celebrity, whose trick had only to be repeated in moderation, and all would be well. 

Farther down the town are cross roads; the left [now Greyhound Lane] once led into Sheep-street.  That is a way of the past never to be re-opened.  Reading-room lane, otherwise Duck-lane, is on the right [now Vicarage Road], from which the bowling green is entered.  Amid its Sylvan beauties many a joke has been cracked by the fine old English gentlemen who were adept at the game of bowls, and frequented the leafy haunt.  There the great Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, gracefully besought the votes and interest of the neighbouring voters, and with his gallant air and flowing speech, captivated the hearts of the ladies, and so gained hosts in his favour, and, by their ever-ruling passions, gained the object of his desires. 

The Churchyard in olden time was an open space with a path running round the Church, coming out at the same place as now.  The consecrated portion was not only used for the burial of the dead, but also as the proper place of satisfaction in cases of dispute.  There small boys, and those of a pugilistic turn of mind adjourned to show “science,” and many of the brawls have been settled, before admiring spectators, with bleeding noses and blackened eyes.  It speaks well, though, for the Christianity of the disputants, that the ring was confined to that portion of the Churchyard set apart for suicides, the unbaptised, dissenters, and those forthwith consigned to Beelzebub.  The Market-square is the next reminder of by-gone days.  There was the encampment which included shows, pitch-and-toss, and gambling booths, at the “jolly Winslow fairs,”

When fiddlers played their favourite airs
And chaps and gals got tight.

So wrote the local poet.  Now these Michaelmas fairs have lost their renown.  No longer does the long row of itinerant hawkers and cadgers extend as far as the Windmill Inn, filling the square with unwholesome fumes, and scattering the seeds of disease amongst the inhabitants.  These were revels of the past, and happily meet with less encouragement every year.  On the square also stood the stocks, in which it was a profitable speculation to get incarcerated, for the prisoner generally received substantial sympathy from a generous public, who delighted in the outlawry for which the man was imprisoned.  Many were the scenes enacted on the Square - fighting, rioting, immorality, debauchery, and all kinds of wickedness have found it a convenient place for their work.  Near it was a sluggish pond [known as Pillory Ditch], and in its filthy waters has many a poor helpless been ducked and drenched for the delectation of mischievous onlookers.  Once the leaders of society, returning from their evening’s resort, guided their footsteps into the pond, in which position a “free fight” was indulged in for variety of recreation. 

The Bell Hotel is in close contiguity, and was the great pivot of social enterprise.  There the vulgar multitude who had committed offences against the law were consigned to the cage, which was within the grounds of this ancient hostelry.  To thence was the Poorhouse removed in later years, in which those who could not keep themselves were consigned not to be kept any longer than possible.  There also the magnates of the town assembled in solemn conclave, and decided what should be and what should not be.  There the coach stopped and took up those who travelled to the far away metropolis.  Then did the customs of the townsmen turn on horse racing, and betting, quarrelling and fighting, which were carried on for many years.  Shrove Tuesday cockfighting was also an anticipated amusement, which alas does not say much for the then influence of the church. 

Fires were of seldom occurrence, but when they did break out, the old squirt was elevated on a dung cart, and hurried to the place of execution; everybody sweated.  Bang went the pumps, and the people cheered, and just as they were going to put the fire out, nobody understood the process by which the apparatus was filled with water, and that eighteen boys and a man had exhausted themselves in pumping for twenty minutes, without producing the slightest effect.  Contrast this with the spruce and active brigade of to-day, and say Winslow has not progressed.  Walk down the streets and see the busy order of the inhabitants.  For a town of only 1,824 people it is far before most places of its size.  The only drawback is the small number of inhabitants, which no doubt is somewhat due to the large number of bachelors, on whom it devolves to make the place of great importance, both socially and commercially.- C.J.A.


Copyright 21 December, 2020