For the sixty years following 1914, Hook Norton’s development – or, at times, non-development — was dominated by the difficult international situation in which the British people found themselves. By 1914 some sort of recovery from the parish’s earlier economic decline had been provided by the growth of industrial activity, especially the beginnings of significant ironstone extraction on the eastern edge of the village. Then the outbreak of war against Germany brought new demands, urgently stimulating the demand for ironstone and foodstuffs but also requiring manpower for the armed forces and a new social discipline to meet the needs of war. Four years of tragic war followed, which did at least bring some compensations. As the list to the right shows, we begin this section with a poignant account of those who lost their lives and, in time, we hope to provide accounts of the other impacts of war.
The return of peace in 1919 saw new economic difficulties as soldiers demobilised and the demand for iron ore and agricultural produce declined. By the 1920s Hook Norton had become a place of uncompetitive agriculture, shrinking industry and growing unemployment. A sense of the difficulties may be gained from Geoff Hillman’s reminiscences of a childhood of shortage and poverty which open the section on Scenes of Village Life from 1920 to 1975. It is followed by short essays by James Tobin giving valuable glimpses of the changing character of village life in those years.
The six years of the Second World War created necessities and shortages, pressures and sacrifices of many different kinds. For many of those who lived through it, these were the most unforgettable years of their lives. We are trying to put together a record of what local people went through, and intend to publish in the near future an overview of the war in Hook Norton by James Tobin.
The period after the war was dominated by the hangover effects of that great conflict, the debts and losses, the shortages, the rationing and the public austerity. At the same time it was a period of reconstruction, with the introduction of the welfare state and the spread of educational opportunities and medical services. Simultaneously, the country remained in a condition of military readiness, as the festering Cold War made nuclear war seem all too likely. In the late 40s struggles against insurrections in Greece, Iran, Palestine and Malaya gave way in the 50s to serious war in Korea, a pathetic demonstration of military weakness in Egypt, and colonial conflicts in Kenya and Cyprus. Young men aged between 17 and 21 were still obliged to perform compulsory National Service in the armed forces for two years until 1960, and some remained in service until 1963. Thereafter men in military uniform ceased to be a common sight on Britain’s streets. Harold Wilson’s Labour government refused to become involved in the Vietnam War in the decade after 1965, though Britain was to be deeply affected indirectly by the inflationary consequences of that conflict and by the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. The subsequent oil crisis of 1973-74 was surely the turning point of British post-war history.
There exists no connected history of how Hook Norton changed over those sixty years, though the HNLHG’s The Story of Hook Norton (2017) includes a good brief survey. Here we provide some illuminating recollections of Hook Norton at moments during the period before 1975. There is the nostalgic verse of long-time resident George Dumbleton (1901-1996), the folk memories of mid-century prompted by Dougie Marshall, and the charming drawings and portraits by Joan Lawrence, which conjure up a village in the 1960s where Hooky children could still play in the street. The most revealing record is the long (if amateurish) documentary film made by John and Beryl Gibbs in 1995 entitled Hook Norton in Days Gone By, which uses the many striking photographs taken of the village and its people to recreate life in the parish between 1890 and 1950. This is one of a number of revealing films about the village which we have mounted in the GENERAL section which opens the website.
Through these difficult years the religious life of the village remained vigorous for those who retained their faith, though after 1950 religion ceased to be a mainstream concern for many and became unsustainable as a local institution for some smaller denominations. At the same time the provision for health and education improved, and for a short period Hook Norton was much envied for its excellent adult education. By 1970, the nation’s economic recovery from the difficult conditions following the second war rubbed off on Hook Norton and the village had already begun to develop as a modern residential area – dependent on cars and buses rather than the now defunct railway, with in-comers boosting the population and more residents earning their living in outside towns and cities. An ancient village still lay at the heart of the parish, but already in the 1970s a key question was beginning to arise: would further growth make Hook Norton a mere suburb of Banbury, Oxford and London rather than a distinct community with its own communal life and character?
26 November 2020