Jack Scott 1902 - 1986
John Scott or Jack as he was always known was born on the 29th June, 1902.
He lived in Kings Langley all his life and, for practically all the time, on Langley Hill.
One of nine children, of whom six survived, he grew up in the row of old houses (now demolished) at the very top of Langley Hill opposite the Priory.
Jack’s mother, Sarah, had grown up in Thornton le Fen in Lincolnshire where her father had died young. ‘She had taught herself to read and write and like so many girls of the time sought work in service. She had heard that there were better wages paid down in the south of England and decided to try her luck at Kings Langley now that she was an experienced servant and could cook. Sarah arrived in Kings Langley, in the early 1880's, on a hot summer’s day. She had travelled down on the London and North Western Railway and walked from the station to Balls Pond Farm in Chipperfield Road which was then owned by Henry Betts, to work as his cook. She did not know the way to the farm and seeing a man standing near the post office she asked if he could direct her but her Lincolnshire dialect was so broad that he could not understand what she said at first. Eventually he realised what she’d asked and after receiving a drink of water she made her way up the hill to the farm.’
Sarah's work in Service
Sarah told Jack that Henry Betts was a mean man and the food and conditions were very poor, sadly not unusual for girls or women in service. ‘They were not allowed eggs for tea and if somehow they managed to get a few they had to cook them in the kettle because he would pop into the kitchen to make sure they weren’t eating anything that wasn’t allowed.'
Sarah was a very kind and generous woman but because of this she lost her job. In those days tramps were always calling at houses begging mostly for food. One day a tramp called at the farm and Sarah gave him a very old stale loaf that was going to be put out in the pig swill. That was all she had to give and told him not to let it be seen until he was well away from the farm, for she knew that Henry Betts was due to ride down the drive on horse back and would ask him where he got the bread from and who gave it to him. He had given strict instructions that tramps were not to be given anything. One can only suppose that he was so hungry that he started eating before he was off the premises and sure enough the farmer came down the drive at that moment and made him tell him where he got it from, which he did, and so Sarah was sacked at once.
Sarah met and married Edward Scott whose family had lived in Kings Langley for several generations. Edward had been born in the Flint Cottage, Watford Road in 1862 where his father, John, composed devotional poetry and according to Amos Young the village tailor (and choir member), the local gentry would, sometimes after church, go to the Flint Cottage to hear John recite his latest compositions.
Edward had served in the regular army in India and unfortunately according to son Jack he had brain storms at times with a terrible violent temper which Jack attributed to sunstroke that he had experienced abroad. This caused much distress for the family. The Old Palace Public House was just too convenient but trying to restrain Edward when he had too much to drink was no easy task.
Jack's early life
Jack attended the village school until he was 12 years old but sometimes he would wander over the fields and along the hedgerows looking for birds’ nests and enjoying the countryside which made him late for school and, fearful of the consequences, he didn’t go at all. For this he received a caning from the headmaster, Mr.Edward Toms. During his schooldays Jack related how he would attend the Sunday service at All Saints Parish Church and was keen to sing in the choir which he did for a while. Jack expected his father to be asleep in bed when he tried to creep in at about 9.00 p.m following a choir practice. Unfortunately Edward was very anti church and he was waiting downstairs for Jack. This put an end to attending choir practices and discouraged any singing career.
However, Jack also recalled his father’s good qualities. ‘He was a very clever farm hand and capable of doing any job about Langley Lodge Farm. He was tremendously strong and no one on the farm exceeded him in feats of strength but he contracted rheumatic fever of which he eventually died. aged 56 in 1918’. His meagre agricultural wage meant that the family, like so many others, endured much hardship.
In happier times, even in hard winters, there was fun to be had. Jack would take a besom broom and as he recalled, ‘With the boys from Langley Hill I would scamper joyfully over the fields to slide on the frozen pond at Langley Lodge Farm.’ With no money to buy skates themselves they would sweep the snow from the ice and hopefully earn a few pence from the skaters.
After Edward’s death, his widow Sarah continued to work at the Archer Nerve Training Colony as it was known. Sarah had healing hands and often attended the birth of babies as a folk midwife and also arranged the laying out of the dead. Jack, by now 16 years old, and his older brother Ted had to take any work to support the family. Sometimes Jack and Ted would take their chance to set traps on the Common to catch rabbits, for meat was beyond their means and food generally scarce in the days of the First World War when Kings Langley was known as the ‘Hungry Village’. On leaving school Jack had started work with a local wheelwright. Later he was employed at a local paper mill and for a time worked in a confectionery factory called Delectaland in north Watford. Extra work was found in part time gardening jobs and he got to know, and was known by, many villagers. Jack not only played for the Kings Langley Cricket Team but used his developing green keeping skills to keep the pitch in good condition. A horse with leather boots, led by Jack, would pull a giant roller across the pitch.
Jack's work as a Groundsman and Greenkeeper
In 1934 Jack went to Shendish, gradually working his way up through the ranks to become the leading groundsman. Ten years later he was appointed Head Gardener and Greenkeeper at the Halsey House Conservative Club in Watford. Here he gained not only a local but a national reputation for the extremely high standard of both the grounds and the bowling green, enabling the club to host many of the County’s major competitions. Having achieved such excellence in green keeping his advice was sought by many visitors which was all the more remarkable since Jack had left the village school aged 12 and never attended college.
Up to his retirement at 66 he cycled to and from work in all weathers. Often on his return journey home to Kings Langley he would balance a sack of grass cuttings on his crossbar as compost for his own long garden which over the years he transformed from clay, stones and flints to a highly productive plot. This meant that Jack, his wife Grace and daughter Valerie were practically self sufficient in vegetables and to some extent, fruit. A favourite story he told was how in the late 1930s an acquaintance saw him cutting the grass of a bank outside one of the newly built detached, three bedroom houses on Langley Hill. ‘Who are you working for tonight Jack?’, he was asked. ‘Myself’, he replied proudly, ‘This is my house.’ To have saved for the deposit and able to buy such a property on his low income was a remarkable achievement.
Although physically strong with great stamina Jack had only one good eye and was increasingly plagued with diverticulitus and recurring bouts of chronic bronchitis. Right to the end however Jack was always happy to pause and pass on knowledge, the benefit of his expertise and his reflections on life. He delighted in showing his grandchildren his own childhood haunts and recalling his early life in the village. His quiet but inspirational enthusiasm for gardening, with such excellent results, was great to see and a pleasure to hear about, along with his anecdotes told in his pleasing rustic tones.
Contributed by Mike Reveley from memoirs of Jack Scott
In 1980 Jack was interviewed by his grand daughter, Susan, for a school project on life during the first World War.