THE THATCHED COTTAGES
The earliest cottages in the village date from the 15th Century. These are down the lane opposite the Church, down what is called Victoria Hill. This green lane ran down the hill, past the brickyard and down to what used to be Victoria Farm and Gibraltar Farm - both now demolished. These are wooden framed thatched cottages with brick and stone foundations and cob walls. Cob was a mixture of stones, sand, straw, clay and cow dung. It was put on in layers whenever the materials were available so in many cases it took years to build a house. It explains why the walls are so uneven. The inside walls were washed with lime every year to brighten it up but also to fill in the cracks and reduce the habitation for insects. When they were first built blankets or sheets used to be hung from the exposed rafters. This was to prevent spiders, dead flies and other insects from dropping onto the bed or furniture in the room. Later lath and plaster provided a safer ceiling.
Some of the taller 17th century cottages close to "The Twitchel" used to be the grainstores for a malthouse and the lower ones were stables for donkeys. The twitchel was a green space with buildings all around it. It is also used to describe for a leafy lane and there used to be a path from this green which linked up with the one to Potton and Deepdale. People used to walk the paths as short cuts when the only way to get from A to Z was on one's feet.
When these buildings were turned into houses is not known but the odd thing about them was that the bedrooms of one house were often over the living rooms of the next one. The walls were very thick and the ceilings low which made them very warm in winter: In one of these low cottages lived Mr and Mrs Lawson. Mrs Lawson was very tall and had to bend nearly double to get through the house door. She had a badly ulcerated leg that made her very irritable. One day her baby, Sam, just cried and cried until she could stand it no longer so she put him outside and shut herself in the house. Two women lived in the thatched cottage opposite called Ann Russell and Betsey Gurney. They heard the baby crying and took him in. When the mother relented and came for her baby, Ann and Betsey refused to give him up saying he was a foundling. So as Betsey and Ann were washer-women at Hazells Hall they took the baby to work with them every day in a clothes basket carrying the basket between them. The child grew up to be a very respected citizen and for 50 years sang in the church choir.
The thatched houses next to the shop on Sandy Road were among the oldest in Everton. I remember the Rev Brittain when he was vicar here and gave a talk about the houses in the village to the W.I. saying that these were of Kingpin construction being built round a tree trunk to which all the timbers were pegged.
These 16th Century houses were once one long yeoman's house in which the family lived in one end and the animals the other. I have no idea when they were turned into cottages but the floors were much lower than the doorsteps so it seems feasible that at one time the floors were strewn with straw or rushes and dug out once a year.
Photographs. Whilst thatched cottages look attractive and remind us of the village's original housing living in them was not very comfortable. The interior of most of them was
"small, pokey, overcrowded and draughty. They consisted of one main downstairs room where everything was done. The floor was usually of brick (thin tiles from Everton or Gamlingay brickyard), with a thick sack or a home-made peg rug (made from strips of old cloth pegged into thick pieces of sacking) in front of the fire. The cooking was done on a small range, which had an oven on one side and a hob on the other. Vegetables were usually cooked in a separate bag in a big boiler and the main meal of the day consisted of vegetables and gravy, with a few odd meat pieces for the man of the house.
The smaller houses had a main room and a parlour used only for special occasions, while the really big houses of the gentry were much as they are today, with a drawing room, a dining room, a study and a kitchen. The servant quarters were either in the basement or behind a green baize door shutting them off from the main part of the house."
(Gamlingay Reminiscences, 1970 by Miss Orlebar, Mrs E. Leader, Mr and Mrs W. Jones, Mrs L. Empson, Mrs. S.F. Hodge, Mr. Jakes et al.)
Until the development of council houses after the war there were only about 60 houses in the village dominated by the following families; Barnett, Darlows, Endersby, Giles, Gurney, Hills, Hull, Jeffries, Lawson, Leonards, Peacock, Peck, Richardson, Russell, Smart, Smith, Tott, Webb, Wissons. (Hilda Brooker’s notes, p.5-6)
Most of these cottages were demolished in the 1960s to make way for bigger, more comfortable council houses with more amenities. “Winnie’s Cottage”, the thatched cottage opposite the Elms on Sandy Road was where Winnie Hull’s large family lived for most of the last century. It was renovated in 1999.