Grendon Days


Grendon Church of St Mary
The photo shown here is of Grendon church. The date is either 1949 or 1950, with the latter year suspected as the more likely as it was against another picture from that year in a photograph album of images from 1948-1950. The foreground shows the war memorial, details of which can be found on  Gordons War Memorial website. Quite why this shot was taken is unclear but it is thought to be on one of my dads cycling tours. Grendon was only an eight mile ride from Rushden and many summer Sunday cycle outings out to this village and beyond to Castle Ashby lakes were enjoyed with my dad during my youth. Judging by the wreaths around the war memorial, maybe this was for an attendance on Armistice Day.

Gendons church, dedicated to St Mary, is located on the junction of Church Way and Main Road, at the top of the hill on the road from Wollaston. This sleepy Northamptonshire village has not changed over time although I have to admit I have not visited the place for some 20 years or so. In Modern times, judging from the photo below, the churchyard looks pretty similar to that in 1950 although a row of trees have grown up between the war memorial and the church.

Present day St Mary's Church, Grendon - courtesy of Geoff Pick / CC BY-SA 2.0

I cannot say I ever knew anyone who hailed from Grendon, it was just a place to pass through or to visit on lazy Sunday afternoons. Even so, it is interesting to note that in Thomas Sternberg's 1851 publication of The Dialect and Folklore of Northamptonshire, he records on  page 97 that

...the men of Grendon go by the name moonrakers, in consequence, it is said, of a party of them having once seen the moon reflected in a pool and attempted to draw it out by means of rakes, under the impression it was a cheese!

Strange people out there in the sticks of Northamptonshire. Not that I have ever witnessed any dodgy old boys searching for fermented curd in muddy ponds in them parts. 

However, I do have many happy memories of Grendon, having spent several weekends in the village over the years. These stay-overs were at Grendon Hall as part of youth activity weekends. The Hall is a Queen Anne house that stands in 17 acres of grounds and is currently run as an Outdoor Learning Centre by Northamptonshire County Council. Back in those days I believe it was run by an organisation that went under the name of Northamptonshire Association of Youth Groups but could well be wrong in this respect.

Memorable times were enjoyed with several youth club weekends which were hosted in the hall. One distinct memory was of  inventing a coke bottle disposal mechanism. The hall boasted a coke machine in the hallway, where for 5 pence (cheap even in them days) one could purchase a glass bottle of coca-cola. These were liberally vended and taken to the upstairs dorms for consumption. However, with all this coke consumption we had a natural problem of waste bottles. I think we were required to return them to a crate by the coke machine where, I believe, they were not just recycled but reused. On this occasion, a friend had learnt how to tie a slip knot, and we soon discovered that armed with a long piece of rope (I cant remember where or who obtained this rope!), we could tie a bottle to one end with a slip knot, then carefully lower this from the upstairs window, which was located at the rear of the building overlooking a courtyard. When the bottle came close to the ground a quick yank would slip the bottle from the knot to deposit it, unbroken, at the base of the building. We did this for the whole collection of bottles that had built up in the dormitory. I never did find out what happened to the bottles after this. For all I know they are still there.

On another visit with a church youth group, each day ended with bible study in the main hall. It was not the most exciting of events but attendance was compulsory with the adult leaders herding the group to attend this ritual. As mischievous as spring sunshine, a friend of mine and myself decided that we should try to evade attendance and hatched a cunning plan to effect such a scheme. A plan so cunning that we would no doubt be honoured as doctors of cunning and the building renamed Cunning Hall.

The plan was put into immediate effect. There was a brief period between dinner and the bible study where we were left to our own devices. In that time we chose to hide in a  rather unsuspecting wardrobe that sat uncared for against the walls of the dormitory, getting there before anyone else entered the dormitory. We could just fit into the unused rickety wooden construction and no-one would ever think we would have the daring, the audacity to hide away when there was a thrilling bible study to enthral our lively minds. We stayed very quiet. Well, we tried to stay quiet, as quiet as two youngsters with a perfect plan could stay quiet when they wanted to boast to the world of such a perfect plan. We listened to the sounds issuing from the dormitory We heard the the crash of the gong that was used to announce the meeting was about to start. We heard the calls of the leaders urging all to hurry up. We heard the mumbles of our friends as they trudged downstairs. We heard the heightened calls when all had not left the dormitory and  the stragglers reluctantly moved, their footsteps distinctively plodding down the wooden staircase. Then silence. Peace. Solitude.

Several minutes had passed before we dared emerge, but emerge we did into the vacant and silent room. We tippy toed down the stairs to the closed door of the hall and heard the evenings meeting in progress, then tippy toed back up the stairs. We had done it. We had gone and got out of the evening meeting and  no-one had suspected. We now had freedom. Freedom to do whatever we wanted to do. The big wide world was our oyster. The chains had been unleashed, the walls broken down and the endless possibilities of unrestrained opportunity presented themselves. But what to do in this brave new world? In them days we had no electronic games or other distractions. All we had was the dorm with its plain beds. It soon became blatantly obvious that sitting around on the beds with not much to talk about was pretty boring. More boring than being in the evening meeting and getting into trouble for being stupid. We had a knack of getting into trouble for being stupid or laughing at an inappropriate time. I had once been excluded from one such meeting for uttering the name Henry Boot which, for reasons unknown, was the start of an avalanche of laughter.

In the end we decided to sneak into the meeting to cure the boredom. Once again we tippy toed down the stairs, then quietly opened the door and sneaked into the group. No-one had noticed us missing. No-one noticed us sneaking back in. No-one even noticed us being stupid that evening, although the name of Henry Boot was kept from being uttered. Was it all worth it? Of course it was.

Gendon Hall - courtesy of Kokai / Creative Commons Licence.

On the whole, the days spent at Grendon Hall were good times. The novelties of youth and the big outdoors with long walks, attempts at completing the challenging woodland assault course and games of sardines in the Hall. Sardines, if I remember correctly, was a version of hide and seek, whereby one person hides and the rest of the group splits up to try and find the person hiding. When the person is found, instead of announcing the discovery to all and sundry, the player then also hides with the person found. The game continues in this fashion with each finder joining those hiding, consequently more and more crammed into the same hiding space like sardines. Great fun. I do remember being the first one to choose the hiding place in one game and hid behind the door of a toilet cubicle. After the allocated time the rest of the group came searching for me. I could hear them searching low and high On several occasions someone came into the toilet and methodically searched in each cubicle, pushing the door open and squashing me against the wall. The door could not be fully opened with me wedged behind it. My feet could easily be seen in the space under the door. Yet no-one found me. I had to reveal myself in the end! 

In latter years Grendon was visited during  1984 to 1992 when the Greenbelt Festival was held in the grounds of the nearby Castle Ashby. Being of drinking age, frequent sorties were made to partake in a few pints of beer at the Crown in Grendon and many drunken evenings, laughing singing and having a wicked time were had at this hostelry. Sadly this pub is now closed down and converted into a domestic house. 

It is somewhat intriguing that on searching the internet to jog a few memories of Grendon, numerous sites dedicated to ghost hunts at Gendon Hall were found. All night ghost hunts, fright nights and even witch workshops are held in this historic building. It is alleged that doors open and close of their own accord, objects are hurled across the room and furniture moves without anyone near. I can categorically state that on all the occasions that I stayed at this supposedly haunted house, not an inkling of the supernatural was ever witnessed and nothing ever went bump in the night.

Maybe the ghost stories are just unsuspecting witnesses,  frightened by coca cola bottles mysteriously being deposited, unaided, at the foot of the building, or wardrobes wobbling as two mischievous youngsters sort to evade a religious meeting, or doors opening from sardines wedged behind them!

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