Ickwell May Queen

May Day is a traditional event that dates back to ancient times when Romans celebrated the festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring and when Celtic people celebrated the festival of Beltane to mark the halfway point between spring and summer. May Day customs include  Morris dancing and dancing around the maypole.

In Ickwell, Bedfordshire, the first documented account of celebrating May Day in the Parish of Northill can be found in the Church Wardens’ Accounts of c1565.   Payments are listed for the purchase of shoes for the dancers, of bells for the shoes, food and drink.  Payments were also made to various people for their paynes (efforts) and to mysnstrells.  

Ickwell May Queen, 1951

In 1951, my mum’s cousin Pat Smith was Ickwell May Queen. Her picture appeared in the Biggleswade Chronicle, where it was written she had been chosen to be May Queen by her school friends.

Biggleswade Chronicle 11 May 1951.
Biggleswade Chronicle, 11 May 1951.

A further article appeared in the Biggleswade Chronicle on 25 May 1951. It describes the murmur of the crowds, the steady beat of the drums and the sound of bugles in the distance, the humming bees and the fragrant horse chestnut trees and the sound of leather hitting the willow as spectators watched a cricket match.  It was reported that apple trees laden with blossom, against a backdrop of old world cottages, provided a perfect setting for May Day activities. 

The Queen led by her loyal subjects was led by the band of the Corps of Drums and as a company of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment arrived, the Queen surrounded by her attendants, sat on a flower bedecked throne drawn by a gaily decorated tractor.  The traditional song ‘Oh lovely, lovely, May’ was sung and hand bells were rung by Mr W Wagstaff. Then the ceremony of crowning the Queen was performed by Betty Lloyd, the previous years Queen, who placed a crown of flowers on the new Queens head and presentations of a garland of flowers and a sceptre were made.

As music struck up, girls dressed as may flowers, skipped over the buttercup-studded grass to the may pole, curtsied to the Queen and then formed a Guard of Honour.  Later the Queen, with  her Pages and Maids of Honour holding her long gold and green train, paraded around the arena before the Queen returned to her throne to graciously watch the proceedings. 

Modern day Ickwell

While May Day is still celebrated across Britain, what may well be unique to Ickwell is that they have a team of adults, ‘the Old Scholars’, who dance around the maypole too.  Almost without exception they are former pupils of the village school and some of them have children and even grandchildren also performing on the day. And in May 2020, fifty former May Queens attended Ickwell May Day celebrations.  The presentation of the locket to the May Queen 2000, Stephanie Turner was made by Mrs Vera Randall (nee Wagstaff), who had been May Queen in 1920.  

Further information 

George Brooker and Mary Ann Brooker (nee Darts)

My great great grandfather George Brooker was born on 14 February 1846.  He was the son of James Brooker and Jane Hall.  My great great grandmother Mary Ann Darts was born in 1845 and was the daughter of Benjamin Darts* and Ann Hall. George and Mary married in Wrestlingworth in 1867, where they lived throughout their lives.  

Census returns


The 1851 census shows  George Brooker, aged five at  Cambridge Road, Wrestlingworth, Biggleswade. James and Jane are both aged 29 and James is working as a farm labourer. George has one sister, Sarah and a brother Joseph. In 1861 the family can be found at Water End, Wrestlingworth, Biggleswade. George is now 15 and he has three brothers, John, Nineon and Joseph.

I believe I have found the Darts family on the 1851 census too. Benjamin Darts aged 35  is recorded as a farm labourer born in Wrestlingworth. He is living at Potton End and recorded as having a wife named Ann Dort aged 32 and four children – Matilda Dart, Mary Ann Dort,  Benjamin Dort and Sarah Dort. However, in 1861, Benjamin aged 44 is recorded as a widower with four children – Matilda, Benjamin, Sarah and Harriett Darts, again living at Water End, Wrestlingworth, Biggleswade. The 1871 census shows Benjamin and daughter Sarah living alone at Fast and Last, Wrestlingworth.


The 1871 census also shows that George is now married to my great great grandmother Mary Ann.  They are living at Fast and Last in Wrestlingworth with a daughter, Lucy A Brooker, aged three.  In 1881, living at Water End, they have six children – Louisa A, Harriet, Jane, Alice, David (my great grandfather). In 1891 they are recorded with children, David, Arthur, Sam and Alice. In 1901 they are again in Wrestlingworth with children David and Samuel and grandson William, aged two,  who was born in Middlesex.

The Brooker and Darts family appear to have been neighbours. The 1861 census shows the Brooker family living at Water End, Wrestlingworth, Biggleswade. The Darts family can be found living there on the same census. The 1871 census shows George and Mary Ann Darts and their daughter Lucy living at Fast and Last, Wrestlingworth, Biggleswade. Benjamin Darts and his daughter Sarah can be found living there too. 

The First and Last

The First and Last appears to have been a beer house. Images of the beer house can be found on the Bedfordshire Archives website.

Beer houses were created by the 1830 Beer Act, when the government tried to create a free market in beer and they were controlled by the excise department. As long as a few basic conditions were met, beer house licenses were granted automatically.

Neither George or Benjamin were the licencee of The First and Last beer house. Bedfordshire archives have advised that at the time the census was taken, the beer house appears to have been the last property to have a name of number so this has been continued to following properties. Benjamin and George are both recorded as the head of their household and // indicates the end of a household which shows they lived in separate properties but no street name or property number is given.  In 1871 Charles Masters is in fact recorded as the publican in 1871 and again in 1891. 

Further information 

* A Benjamin Darts, aged 27 and born in 1814  is recorded on the 1841 census at 
   Wrestlingworth, Biggleswade in the home of Samuel Hall, where he also lives with
   with Ann Hall aged 22. Household members include those with the name Darts and
   those with the name Hall.

Eleanor, Rhoda, Elizabeth and Ann

My great grandmother Eleanor Rose  Payne was born on 23 August 1892 in Biggleswade.  She was the daughter of  Charles and Rhoda Payne (nee Brown) who was born in 1860 in Potton, Bedfordshire. Rhoda’s mother was Elizabeth and her mother was Ann. Their lives can be tracked by census returns. 


  • Bedfordshire County Record Office have advised there were two Rhoda Brown’s born in Stotfold within a year of one another. One was the daughter of Elizabeth, the other the daughter of James.  I believe my family is descended from the daughter of Elizabeth.


The 1861 census shows Ann, a widow, aged 65, living at Queen Street, Stotfold, Biggleswade with her daughter Elizabeth, aged 35 (born 1826), who is unmarried. Elizabeth’s daughter Rhoda is living with them and is less than one year old.  Ann was born in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, Elizabeth and Rhoda were born in Stotfold. 


The 1871 census shows Elizabeth, aged 46 and Rhoda aged 10, at Brook Street, Stotfold, Biggleswade.  Elizabeth’s occupation is a straw plaiter.  


The 1881 census shows Elizabeth, aged 56,  at Meeting Lane, Potton, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England. Her marital status is shown as married, however there is no husband recorded. Elizabeth is working as a char woman. She is living with Rhoda, aged 20, who is working as a domestic servant.


I believe that Rhoda had a daughter called Annie born outside of marriage on 20 June 1884. Rhoda would have been 24 at the time. No details of the father appear on the birth certificate. However Annie appears to be living with Rhoda on the 1901 census and recorded as ‘Annie Paine’.


Rhoda can be found on the 1891 census of Potton, aged 31 and now married to Charles Paine. They have one son called Charles, aged five and a daughter, Ellie, aged two.  Elizabeth Brown can also be found on the 1891 census, at Meeting Lane, Potton, Biggleswade, living with with her granddaughter Annie Brown.


The 1901 census show Rhoda and Charles are still at Horselow Street. The family has grown and now comprises six children – Annie (aged 16), Charles, Nelly (aged 8, born 1893), Minnie, Florence and Bertie. 


The family are still at Horselow Street on the 1911 census but Eleanor Rose is not with them.   

Charles Payne

My great great grandfather Charles Payne was born in Stotfold, Bedfordshire in 1860.  His  life can be tracked by census returns.

Note: Although I use the spelling of Payne on this page, historically the surname can also be spelt Paine and Pain


Charles can be found on the 1891 census living at Horselow Street, Potton, aged 32 and married to my great grandmother Rhoda.  They have one son named Charles, aged five and a daughter, Ellie, aged two.  He is employed as a farm labourer.


The 1901 census show Charles aged 41 and Rhoda are still at Horselow Street. The family has grown and now comprises six children – Annie, Charles, Nelly (aged 8, born 1893), Minnie, Florence and Bertie. Charles is employed as an ordinary agricultural labourer.


The family are still at Horselow Street on the 1911 census, Charles is aged 50. His occupation is given as Gardeners labour.

Ellen Kefford

Ellen Kefford was born on 25 December 1880 in Sawston, Cambridgeshire. She was the daughter of James Kefford and Harriet Coleman.

The 1881 census shows Ellen, aged less than one year old, living in Sawston with her  father James, a shepherd, mother Harriet and four brothers and sisters – John, Rebecca, Thomas and Jane. 

Ellen married my great grandfather David Brooker in Biggleswade on 2 December 1903 and the 1911 census shows them living together in Wrestlingworth with a four year old son called David Arthur. 

Ellen died suddenly in 1932 at the age of 54, at the Southend Municipal Hospital in Rochford, Essex following an accident. Her death and the inquest that followed was reported in newspapers at the time.ellen-brooker-death





David Brooker

David Brooker was born on 16 January 1879 in Biggleswade. He was the son of George Brooker and Mary Ann Darts.

David Brooker

The 1881 census shows David aged two, living in Wrestlingworth with his parents and five brothers and sisters – Arthur, Alice, Jane, Harriet and Louisa.   In 1891, David aged 13 can  still be found living with his parents and working as an agricultural labourer and the same on the 1901 census, aged 22.

David Brooker

David married my great grandmother Ellen Kefford in Biggleswade on 2 December 1903 and the 1911 census shows them living together in Wrestlingworth with a four year old son called David Arthur.  The 1939 register shows David to be widowed, living in Biggleswade and working as a horseman on a farm.  Living with him are Arthur D Brooker and Ellen Brooker, my great grandmother.

David died in Biggleswade on 3 February 1957, my mum’s birthday.

Ellen Brooker

Ellen  Brooker (known as Nelly) was born in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire on 7 February 1916. Ellen was the daughter of David Brooker and Ellen Kefford.  She had a sister, Phil and a brother, Arthur.


The 1939 register shows Ellen living at 16 The Baulk, Biggleswade, working as an unpaid housekeeper and living with David Brooker, a widower and Arthur Brooker. The following year, Ellen married my grandfather in Biggleswade, by special licence two days before Frederick had to report for military service.

The wedding of Frederick and Ellen.

Wedding announcement for Mr F Payne and Miss E Brooker.

Frederick and Ellen had three children, Pamela Ann and Freda were twins born in 1940 but Freda only lived to be three days old – her death certificate states she was a premature twin born at seven months. My mum was born seven years later on 3 February 1948.

Ellen died aged 60 on 15 November 1976.

Frederick Charles William Payne

Frederick Charles William Payne was born on 25 September 1915.  The only son of Ellen Rose Payne. His father is unknown.

Frederick Charles William Payne.

He married my grandmother Ellen Brooker in Biggleswade in 1940. The couple were married by special licence two days before Frederick had to report for military service.

The wedding of Frederick and Ellen.

Wedding announcement for Mr F Payne and Miss E Brooker.

Frederick and Ellen had three children, Pamela Ann and Freda were twins born in 1940 but Freda only lived to be three days old – her death certificate states she was a premature twin born at seven months. My mum was born seven years later on 3 February 1948.

During his time in the military, Frederick was reported missing in action.



Frederick’s occupation at the time is given as Private Number 198808 Royal Army Service Corps (Butchers Assistant).

Pam and Dick

Pamela Ann Payne was born to my grandparents Frederick and Ellen in 1940. Pam was a twin but her sister Freda only lived to be three days old. Freda’s death certificate states she was a premature twin born at  seven months.


Both from Bedfordshire, Pam married Richard Wade (known as Dick) in Biggleswade in 1962. My cousins, Steven and Paul were later both born in Luton, Steven in 1963 and Paul in 1965. Pan and Dick subsequently moved to Cheshire where they lived for the rest of their lives.


Dick played bass guitar in bands throughout is life but he played the accordion too and can be seen at the back of the float in the photo below.


More photos

Orphan photos

The purpose of the Family Album pages is to try and document my family – to ensure my family stories live on and the people are not forgotten.  Sadly though, I do have photos that I know nothing about and these are displayed here, in the the hope that maybe someone will recognise the people in them be able to tell me something about them.

The people shown are likely from Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire as this is where my ancestors were from.

Orphan photo

More orphan photos

See also:

There’s no place like home

Going through old family photos, I have come across photos of places my family have lived. Below is a brief history of some of the places my family have called home.

39 Woodbridge Close, Luton

My first home was 39 Leagrave Close, Luton and it was here that I was born. My mum had wanted to give birth to me in hospital as I was her first baby but the doctor felt she was young and healthy, so a home birth it was.

Woodbridge Close was my parents first home after they were married in March 1967 and I came along in May 1971. The house was a mid terrace in a block of three properties and a new build which cost £4,250. Dad told me the heating/hot water came from a coal fired back burner in living room. The house had three radiators, the coal fire had to be refilled two to three times a day and an ash box emptied each morning.


Langport Drive, Vicars Cross

When I was seven months old we moved to Chester. My parents bought a new three bedroom house on Langport Drive in Vicars Cross for just under £5,000, after the first buyers pulled out and we moved in on 9 December 1971.  At the time of purchase the house had just a gas fire in living room and my parents had to find a plumber to fit the central heating.

The houses were built by Thomas Warrington Homes Limited and are a mix of bungalows, detached and semi detached properties, most of which have very recogisable windows on the front of the property – one large window divided up into many smaller windows. The bedroom windows overlooking the road had two similar smaller windows, with wooden shutters and mock black iron hinges. Today the windows still remain but the shutters and black hinges have now mostly be taken down.

My friend Ian and his sister Helen lived a few doors up the road in a detached property – their house was the last house on the right of the street. I remember it had a larger back garden than the rest of the houses and to the side of their house, out the front, there was a piece of land on which the children from the street would often play. The land signalled the top of the cul-de-sac, behind which a hedge was planted to separate the road from the busy A41 which ran directly behind it.

The black and white photos below show Ian and me as bables outside of my parents house.  The colour photos show Ian and me with our sisters Helen and Rachel.

Poplars Close, Luton

Poplars Close was my grandparents house until I was about 11 when they moved to Chester. I remember visiting my grandparents and also, because it was so close, getting to visit London and go the theatre at the same time which was always a treat.

The property was a large two bedroom bungalow called ‘Robin Hill’. The property was a large two bedroom bungalow, with a large garden out the back. I remember a greenhouse where my grandfather grew tomatoes and looking at the the photos today, I am struck by the size of the garden and how pretty it was. My grandfather must have spent a lot of time out there and I wish I could have talked to him about it, as I have grown to love gardens too and I think he could have taught me a thing or two.
My great grandfathers Albert Edward William Clarke and my great grandfather Joseph Charles Abram lived about 100 yards away from one another on Earls Barton. More information about both men can be found on this website.

32 Mears Ashby Road, Earls Barton

Mears Ashby Road was the home of my great grandfather, Joseph Charles Abram. Named ‘Rockaway’, it was a three bedroom semi detached house and was one of two houses which we believe he built after he retired from the army.

My dad and granddad lived in this house for around  4 – 5 months in 1952 too because my grandmother was in hospital. Dad remembers the property had a large flower garden but also a large area for growing vegetables. He explained to me that gardens were much bigger than they are today and growing vegetables had been encouraged during the war years as part of the Grow for Victory campaign.

The Limes, Earls Barton

My great grandfather Albert Edward William Clarke lived at The Limes.  The house still stands today.  Photos of the property can be seen below.


The Rag Trade

My mum has always been good with a needle and thread and when she left school, her first jobs were in the textile industries.

Mum first worked for a company called Kayser Bonder in Biggleswade.  The underwear made by the company, was known throughout the world during the 1950’s and 1960’s and Biggleswade was home to one of its factories for 53 years. The letter shown below was sent to my mum prior to her starting work at Kayser Bondor. She was fifteen years old at the time.

Mum also worked as a sewing machinist for Skirtex undertaking piece work (a type of work which pays a fixed rate for each unit produced or action performed regardless of time) and at Electrolux as an armature winder, both in Luton.

The photo below was taken at Skirtex. Mum is stood directly behind Father Christmas, to the right of a woman wearing glasses, who I know was called Connie, because I met her once.  Mum tells me the women had a radio and would sing while they worked and I can imagine them singing along loudly and giving hell to any man who walked across their factory floor.


Later, mum made clothes for my sister and I and also for my dolls – I still have a bag full of them, seemingly unable to throw them away, even though I am now much too old for such things.

Then, almost forty years after mum began work with Kayser Bondor, she took early retirement and began making quilts. Turns out she is pretty amazing at it too and has won awards for her work. Mum’s quilts are displayed on her website below.