Village Advent Celebrations 2019. December 16th. Hill Farmhouse, Manor Road

A topical theme with an important Christmas message.

More photographs on the next page (Click on: “Read the rest of this entry”)







Really hot mulled wine!




With a little help from “Blue Tooth” the window is illuminated

















A little story follows about the door of the house adjoining Hill Farm House, on the left in the above picture.



This splendid oak front door with its “raised and fielded panels” was obviously made by a craftsman and is rather elaborate for a building known simply as “The Cottage”. The roughly hewed lintol above it clearly once belonged to a much more humble entrance way.

The story begins in the lovely little Italian town of Santo Donato in the Valle di Camino, some 70 miles east of Rome.

Here, in 1912 was born Vincenzo Luigi Cugini. As a young man he was apprenticed to a master carpenter, joiner and cabinet maker. Life was hard but the skills he learned served him well throughout his life. At lunchtimes only the men were allowed to sit down. The boys remained standing to serve the wine.

He finally became a master craftsman in his own right, married in the 1930s and had three children. A simple but rewarding and comfortable life in his home town beckoned. Enter Benito Mussolini. In the late 1930s Vince was conscripted into the Italian army and sent to Abysinnia to help further the Duce’s colonial ambitions in Africa. Things became even worse when Italy became Germany’s principal ally in the Second World War. Vince found himself facing Montgomery’s Eighth Army in the western desert. Many years later he said that as he and the other boys had no quarrel with the British they had no intention of dying needlessly for the Duce and the Fuhrer. He and immense numbers of his colleagues surrendered at the first opportunity, relishing the opportunity to come to Great Britain and many already hoping to stay here.

He and about fifty fellow Italian soldiers soon found themselves arriving in lorries outside the newly constructed Prisoner of War camp just outside the village on the road to Helmdon. By the then standards of the village the accommodation was luxurious, with a piped water supply and a sewage disposal system which enabled the installation of flush toilets and wash basins. Vince said that none of the men he was with had the slightest intention of escaping. They were lightly guarded, worked as farm labourers and had considerable freedom.  With other youngsters of my age, I was a frequent visitor to the camp, where we were welcomed by young men missing their families and well known for their love of children.

The war came to an end in 1945 but the prisoners remained under strict control for several more years. Labour was short and it was deemed essential that they continued to assist in all kinds of agricultural work. My father returned from his own army service at that time and rejoined the family building business, rejuvenated as Wootton Bros Ltd. Vince was anxious to give up farm labouring and find an opportunity to earn a living as a carpenter and joiner. During his captivity he had made an exquisite inlaid tray, using spare pieces of wood with old razor blades as his only tools. He presented it to my father who was so impressed he immediately took steps to secure Vince’s release from agriculture, including a visit to the then local MP Reginald Manningham Buller. Vince was finally able to become a fully fledged employee of the company and remained with them until his retirement.

He determined to remain in the village, saved hard and eventually bought the little cottage in Manor Road from my father for a nominal sum. He carried out many improvements including the installation of the magnificent door to show off his skills and advertise his trade (we got there in the end!)

His first task when he joined the company was to make his own tools. He salvaged timber from the disused windmill and re-tempered metal as necessary. One of his favourite tools was the adze, the blade of which was made from an old hoe. In the picture below he is seen using it when working on the reconstruction of Syresham church roof.

Photograph: Colin Wootton

The adze was not much used by English carpenters but Vince used it constantly and he could make the surface of a piece of wood as smooth as if it had been planed.

He also made a magnificent bench for the company’s joiners’ workshop in the village (behind the village shop) which excited the admiration of others involved in the building trade and he made several more for sale. They always reminded me of the bench in the famous picture by Millais – “Christ in the House of his Parents (The Carpenter’s Workshop)”

During the long school holidays of my early teens I was allowed about one week to relax and was then drafted into the family business to assist as father directed. I frequently worked with Vince, loved his stories and tried not to annoy him – he was not unknown to hurl whatever came to hand at annoying apprentices!

Vince joined in many village activities and was, for example, a member of several league winning billiard teams (who played in what is now the village shop).

In the early 1950s, frequent visits were made to Silverstone for the annual British Grand Prix and other races, when the entrance regime was so relaxed it was possible for the builder’s lorry to be driven to the edge of the track. A mini grandstand was erected from scaffolding and Vince can be seen on the right in the photograph below. Under the scaffolding on the bed of the lorry stood a builder’s hut with planks on wooden beer crates serving as a bar. The then landlord of the Six Bells Inn (who also worked for my father) sold bottled beer he brought with him from the pub.

There was some (mostly) good natured banter between Vince and the other spectators as the formidable red cars of Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati sped round the track leaving the British cars in their wake.

Vince had parted from his wife in Italy and rather late in life he married Connie Harvey from the village. One of the last things I remember him saying to me was: “She’s a good woman, Connie, such a good woman”.

He died in 1977. Connie died in 1998 and they are both remembered on the oldest of the three large tombstones in the little garden just inside the small churchyard gate in Church Street.

Colin Wootton


2 Responses to “Village Advent Celebrations 2019. December 16th. Hill Farmhouse, Manor Road”

  1. Ingram Lloyd says:

    Vince was an amazing man and his work stands in testimony, he built all Gabriellas kitchen units and I think that she took them with her?
    Do you have a photo of Vince in his very dapper summer uniform, the trilby which was doffed with a very cheery “good morning” Our children loved him and were very appreciative of the chats he had with them when they were small. He was living in Alcon Cottage with Connie.

  2. Libbie says:

    When does the history of the village houses book come out then Colin?

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