History of Oxhill

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South Warwickshire, England.

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Evelyn Colyer, (nee Gilks) - 100th Birthday

(Originally published in November 2008)

Mrs Evelyn Colyer who was born Evelyn Gilks in Oxhill on 5th October, 1908, has just celebrated her 100th birthday.   Her mother was a Summerton, a family who lived in Oxhill for many centuries. Her father, William Gilks was the son of the village blacksmith, and followed the same trade, finding work first at Rugby. When he joined up in the First World War, his wife brought her little family back to Oxhill,  to be among her many relatives in the village.

When the War ended, and Evelyn was eleven, the family moved to Quinton, but Oxhill remains very much in her heart, and she has many happy memories of her childhood here. (Her only complaint is that Gilkes Lane has her family’s surname spelt incorrectly!)  She has written articles in Country Life in 1991 on The Village School, and in This England in 2000 about Mayday celebrations, and her Reminiscences 1914-1919 are in the Warwick County Library. There are articles too on her grandfather John Henry Summerton, and the village Empire Day celebrations.

I have also enjoyed interviewing her on tape about village life during the First World War period, and her memory for detail is impressive.  She has peopled the houses for me, and answered many queries.

Evelyn has been a traveller too. Before her marriage, working as a nanny in Aden, she was evacuated as the Second War loomed.  On the ship she met her future husband, one of the ship’s officers, and she subsequently often travelled with him during his career.

The couple had two daughters, and now Evelyn has 6 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Evelyn enjoyed a splendid party in Quinton to celebrate her birthday.

Many (belated) Happy Returns from her childhood village of Oxhill.

Ann Hale
November, 2008

Christmas Treat at Oxhill

(Originally published January, 2011)

Mrs Evelyn Colyer, born Evelyn Gilks in Oxhill in 1908, spent the years of the First World War in Oxhill.   Now 102, she is very frail, but her daughter has kindly given permission for me to use here her account, written years ago, of the Oxhill Christmas Treat.  I have very slightly shortened this, and added footnotes based on other details gleaned from Evelyn during our discussions over the years.   A.H.

“Our village school was very small, and as most of the pupils also attended Sunday School, the annual Christmas Treat included all the children.  We spent several afternoons before the holidays making paper chains to hang around the schoolroom walls. On the last day of term a large Christmas tree was brought into the “big room”,[1] and the two teachers and the older children set about decorating it with paper chains, and small coloured candles secured to the tree with metal clips.  This wasn’t as dangerous as it sounded, because the candles were not lighted until the presents were actually distributed, and then a careful watch was kept. After lunch the children lined up and sang carols.  (Some of them I have never heard since – “Carol, sweetly carol”, and “In the fields with their flocks abiding”) …………  The last carol to be sung was “We Three Kings of Orient are” to the entry of the Rector and his two grown-up sons[2], dressed as the Three Kings, and bearing sacks containing presents for the children.  When the carol ended everybody sat on the floor, and the Three Kings handed round the presents, which were received with tremendous excitement.  Some of the families were very poor, especially those whose fathers worked on farms.  Some families numbered seven, eight or more children, so they had few presents at Christmas; consequently the toys from the Sunday School treat were doubly treasured.

After all the parcels had been opened and the contents displayed, the candles on the tree were lighted, the children gathered round, and more carols were sung, whilst tea was prepared in the “little room”. Even now more than sixty years later, I can see in my mind’s eye the little coloured candles flickering and the children singing in the dim light, and I can almost smell the melting wax and the pungent odour of the tree.

Tea was served by some of the mother, supervised by Mrs Carter[3], the Rector’s wife.  Then we played a few games before we left for home, carrying our precious presents.

Although I fared pretty well, having fond parents and two pairs of grandparents[4] all living in the village, who spoiled me terribly, my presents from the Christmas Treat were always very special.  I remember a little grand piano (with one octave!), that really played, also a beautifully made doll’s bed on rockers, with hand painted rose on the foot and the headboards.

Thank goodness, in those days there were no television advertisements to make us worry our parents for expensive toys which they could not afford!”

[1] The school was divided into two classrooms, one for the older and one for the younger children.

[2] Rev James Carter had two sons, Reggie and Arthur, who with their sister Marjorie all were later to become missionaries in either India or China.

[3] During WW1 Mrs Carter ran working parties for women to make shirts and sweaters for soldiers.  There was a separate children’s class too, during which Mr Carter would read aloud the stories about Brer Fox.

[4] William and Bertha Gilks, and John Henry and Esther Summerton.  William Gilks was the blacksmith.

(originally published in April 2011)

Mrs Evelyn Colyer

I have written many times about Mrs Colyer, born Evelyn Gilks in Oxhill in 1908, and I am sorry now to report her death at the fine age of 102.  Oxhill was the village where both sets of Evelyn’s grandparents lived – the Gilkses and the Summertons – but after her birth here, she only spent the years of the First World War in Oxhill with her mother and siblings while her father was away at the Front.  After the war the family moved to Quinton, and it was there that Evelyn spent most of the rest of her life. As a young woman she worked for a time as a nanny to a military family in Aden, and it was on board ship as she returned that she met her husband, who was a naval officer.*  He was often away at sea, but Evelyn brought up their two children Jane and Marguerite in Quinton, where Marguerite still lives, and it was said at her funeral that the villagers felt that she “had always been there”.  She always took a lively interest in village and church affairs, and the church was crowded with her family and many friends.

She always kept a special place in her heart for Oxhill, of which she had so many childhood memories, and she wrote several brief accounts of her recollections which are invaluable.  I shall always remember her visits here with affection.

Ann Hale
April, 2011

* Later, re-reading Evelyn’s article entitled BELLS, I see that a more accurate description would have been “marine engineer” as she there describes him.

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