Reginald Costar of Robsart Place was born 9 December 1909, son
of Charles William Costar, locally known as "Dad Charlie'. His first home was a
smallholding in Leys Road belonging to St John's College, where his father grew
vegetables on the deep rich loam and sold them in Abingdon market. Gardening was
more or less compulsory for his son Reg.
There were eight children in the family but only four survived. One died from a smallpox vaccine and another by eating poisonous berries.
Reg's father related how he went to Abingdon Hiring Fair in 1890 as a carter, although he had no experience of this trade. He wore a piece of horse hair to show that he was a carter. If you were a cowman it was cow hair or a shepherd would wear a piece of sheep's wool. Well, carter's work didn't suit Dad Charlie so he went back again next week to the Run Away Fair to try for more suitable employment.
While digging on his father's land Reg found a paper weight of glass with a newt set in it. This was placed in the school collection in a glass case when Reg was five years old the family moved to Chawley Villas, Oxford Road.
In the First World War, troops would march from Cowley Barracks up Cumnor Hill to Bradley Farm where they had maneouvres in the field off the "straight road". Mr May, the farmer here, kept sheep. He was often referred to as "Sheppy May'. When his sheep got out and damaged other people's gardens or crops he would pay for the damage with vegetables or goods rather than cash.
Reg's elder brothers were in the Army. Reg was employed at Hinkins and Frewin until he was 16 years. The family had by now moved into the cottage in the Closes, now by the football field, where they remained until the 1960's, when his sister and her husband, Mr Leslie Crapper, emigrated to America to join their daughter for a trial period, later returning to this country.
Aged 16 years Reginald Costar went to work at Chawley Brick Works where his father was foreman.His first job was brick running, one of four boys running green or wet bricks to the 'lack’ covers to dry. Clay was fed into a hopper and through the brick cutting machine in strips. His father, Charlie Costar, cut it with a wire, ten bricks at a time.
Four boys were responsible for picking up the bricks with two soft pads (to prevent finger prints on them) and placing them in tens on oiled boards. The boys would then in turn ride down on the truck of 50 bricks. They removed two bricks on the top plank to give them space to sit and they would control the truck with a brake stick. They then ran all the way back to the brick cutting machine. At the other end of the rail the bricks were stacked three high with air spaces in between. It took two days to complete and 'lack' cover as the bottom three layers had to partially dry before they would take the weight of the next three, otherwise they were crushed.
The rate of pay was 6/- per thousand bricks between 5 men and 4 boys. If they were lucky they earned 35/- per week but the weather and the speed of the machine meant that sometimes only £1 was earned. It was a sore point that the wire cut brick making machine was at times restricted in its speed of production by the manager so that the workers could not earn excessive wages by piece work. Brick making was restricted to the frost free months of the year as they were dried out of doors and the bricks were fired in the two kilns with square chimneys. The kilns would be clayed up or sealed and a man was on duty night and day to feed the fires. On the Chawley site there was also a boiler house distinguished by a round chimney, a saw mill and a blacksmith's shop.
Sandstock or handmade bricks were made and field drain pipes, half round bricks
and corner bricks. Percy Frewin was one who built a new house of Chawley brick and tiles. He then rode a motor bike to work. When this would not start he would get a group of village school children to give him a push.
Mr Neale was head of' the saw mills. Mr Simms oversaw brick production. Avery was in charge of transport. Lowe was in the office. Brown and Sallis were responsible for the horses and timber bogie. There were in all three different sized brick cutting machines and 7, 8 or 10 brick cutters. There was winter work at Rockley, quarrying stone.
|Piece work:||2s 6d square yard||Best stone|
|1s 6d||Soft stone|
Stone had to be stacked 1 yard high and so many yards square,
measured and paid for accordingly. Trinidad's ( a name taken from the source of
the tar for the tarmacadam road) had a stone-crushing machine with three sieves
for grading at Rockleigh.
Lord Abingdon, who in those days resided at Wytham Abbey, came occasionally to see the work in progress. He would have one of his bullocks slaughtered at Christmas and this was divided between the men according to the years or service and the position they held. Beef was the traditional Christmas dinner. A bird was unusual. Mr Reg Costar remembers the family's first bird being a small goose.
The Chawley workers carried a billycan of cold tea to work to quench their thirst. Their midday lunch could be the top off a cottage loaf with a hunk of cheese or fat bacon in it. High days or celebrations they might fetch a stone jar or beer f'rom the pub but it wasn't usual.
When they worked at Rockley they had a wooden hut to sit in at lunch time, 8 or 9 men round a wooden fire in a bucket. The explosives for quarrying were kept in a concrete building. It was remembered that two of the horses that pulled the timber bogie were both drowned in the Thames at LowerWhitley when bringing home timber.
Mrs Reg Costar, nee Hilda Willoughby, was daughter of' the head sawyer at Chawley. Her family moved from London for her father to accept this employment. Their home was what the 'locals' called the 'Mangle pits', the primitive one-storey thatched cottages with no mod. cons. on the 'pick' of Hurst Lane. Two families lived in these cottages, which are now demolished. Her father met with an accident in the saw-mill. He lost his leg by slipping on a wet log in the path of' the saw. The saw had been moved because of a fire and the guard was not put on. He was awarded £70 compensation but he had no employment, being disabled, and with a family to bring up. He used the £70 to purchase the cottage he lived in, which was by now in Cumnor High Street next to the Post Office end-ways on to the road. The cottage was bought from Mr Tipping, the estate agent to Lord Abingdon who had handed him the £70. Mrs Hilda Coster said the pay was low at Chawley and it was all piece work.
(Told to Mrs Iris Wastie 1984)