Historian John Taylor takes us off down memory lane
Of course, nowadays through ‘social networking’ any indiscretion has the potential to become public knowledge, and the embryonic nature of the medium has ensured that farce and confusion surrounds those trying to police the content. However, in times gone by ‘mass communication’ was very different, and in the days of medieval serfdom very unnecessary, since social circumstance, and the state of the primitive tracks, meant that the next village might just as well have been a foreign country.
In many communities the focus for local gossip would be the village well, that at North Marston being of particular interest, and in later years came the introduction of town criers, whose job was to impart news of local or national importance to the often illiterate inhabitants.
In the 19th century, one of the most notable was the one legged, poetical, Sam Ashton of Stony Stratford, while in villages official proclamations would often be posted on the church door. However, regarding the ‘Enclosure’ of the common acres at Stewkley, such discontent was caused in 1803 that only when Sally Sear hid the document under her skirts, and so thwarted a defiant vigil of the church, was the official notice able to be posted on the door, as required by law.
From as early as the 18th century local newspapers would provide a popular mass media, but two soldiers just back from the South African war put their own news in print on their own ‘message board’ at the Three Tuns, in Fenny Stratford, which, found many years later during renovations, read ‘This matchboard was fixed by Pte. Coleman and Pte. Bowes in the year 1900, just back home from the Transvaal War, Gordon Highlanders was wounded in the thigh.’ (sic) In the 20th century, with the advent of national radio came the potential for ‘personal messaging,’ and in November 1941 in a BBC Anniversary radio broadcast Mr & Mrs Harrington, of Bedford Street, Bletchley, were surprised to hear themselves being congratulated on their golden wedding. As for Rhoda Maddox, of High Street, Fenny Stratford, she was also rather surprised, when ‘Trees’ was played especially for her by Sandy Macpherson. The request had been made by her husband, who during World War Two was training to be an air mechanic in Canada. In a pre Facebook age, children could create distant friendships through ‘pen pals,’ and in 1945 a letter was received by Miss Audrey Hughes, of Cottingham Grove, Bletchley, from Sonya Muchina, a Russian girl who lived about 25 miles from Moscow. Audrey was also corresponding with a girl in the US, and a girl in France, and it had been via the ‘Anglo Soviet Youth Friendship’ that she had been put in touch with Sonya, who began her letter, ‘Dear friend Audrey, how good it is to know that this short letter is to fall into the hands of one of our Allies.’
For the technically minded, assuming they passed the exams they could become ‘radio amateurs,’ and via their sets ‘socially network’ even across the oceans. In fact in a competition held by the Radio Society of Great Britain, in 1947 Philip Tandy of North Street, Bletchley, an employee of Weatherheads, had been recognised as the second best radio ‘ham’ in the country, for having via his home made radio set communicated with 86 other ‘hams.’ Nowadays any non entity has the ability to spout their two pennyworth worldwide. But discretion is to be definitely advised, as some local glamour queens of the teaching profession recently discovered, regarding their rather interesting antics at a hen night!