Betsy Kellam's memories of Waltham

Betsy Kellam was born at 2 Rose Cottages in 1913. She wrote down her memories of her life in Waltham for Christine Matthews, who has very kindly allowed us to include it on this website. (Many thanks to Richard for transcribing the text.)

Betsy Kellam

Born at no.2 Rose Cottages, Waltham on the Wolds, March 30th 1913
Married Ernest Roythorne of Langham at Waltham Church of the Sant Mary Magdalene, October 26th 1940, now in her 70th year.
This book is for Christine Matthews to have at Waltham; my friend and hairdresser.

After we married we lived at Wymondham. Ernie joined the Home Guard during the War. He worked for Lord Gretton for 31 years at Hollygate Farm. He worked on the land and afterwards in the Lion Reserve. He also was a guard on the Stapleford Miniature Railway.


I am the eleventh child of George Kellam, a native of Waltham and Eliza Richards of Colston Bassett. We were all 12 born at no.2 Rose Cottages which belonged at that time to the Duke of Rutland. In 1922 he sold all the row for £120.

When Dad was young he knew Rose Cottages as Workhouse Yard because there was a work house built to the left of the pump. Tramps could get a meal and a bed for 1 shilling. Then it went high brow.

Our house

The focal point of our only room was a black-leaded grate with oven and boiler on either side. The boiler was filled wit water from the pump in the middle of the big yard. The steel topped fender was cleaned by dipping a damp cloth in the ashes and given a good rub.

A large hand-made hearth-rug covered a large part of the floor. There were two rows of large white stones in front of the heart. Washing up was done on the table using a bowl and a tray. The flat irons were heated on a trivet in front of the fire.

The pantry was a square at the top. Then sloping down under the stairs. We were quite happy altogether. Dad had a grandfather clock which had two heavy weights inside. The were pulled up at night to wind it up. Mother bought some new chairs “to good for us to sit on”. They were put on the road for anyone to rest their coffins on (no biers then).

We had a small yard which had two large wooden tubs for the rain water. There was a large granite stone – we used to clean our shoes on it This stone had been dragged or pushed through the village and left when finished. There was another at the bottom of Mill Lane. (Note: it’s still there!)

Saturday night was bath night.

On toilet

When we needed a job to do we would fold newspaper into squares and put a string through one corner. There’s your toilet paper. Our toilet was one of six across the big yard. We two girls would go together with a candle in a bucket . What a shout went up when the candle went out.

All the row would save their ashes in a big heap at the top of the yard. Ethel would borrow a large ladle from the farm and they were all emptied into the ashes. After a while a horse and cart was borrowed and it all finished up in a farmer’s field.

The curfew bell

Once upon a time (only this time it’s true) there was an old lady who got lost walking in the fields around Waltham. Then she heard the church bells ringing and made her way towards them. When she died she left a sum of money to have a curfew bell rung at 7pm in the winter and 8pm in the summer. They carried on until the second world war when it was stopped by order.

The (windmill) sails were also taken off because they were a landmark. The miller would grind enough corn for the local farmers.

Our village

We have a lovely Church dedicated to St Mary Magdelene. Some of my relations are buried there at Waltham. Mother had us all baptised and confirmed. Then we could do as we liked she said.

There was a Methodist Chapel which is still a very lovely part of the village. A small number of Christadelphians who had their meetings in a tailors shop.

There were three public houses. Two at the crossroads and the George & Dragon further up the village. The Granby and the Royal Horseshoes were at the cross roads.

The village pump was on the green. The George Dragon was kept by Betsy Welbourne. A tinker used to come around with pots and pans and stayed at this pub.

Sister Maud

When my sister Maud was very ill and Mother was sitting up with her at night. During the night Mother saw a most beautiful Angel fly round the room. Next morning Maud was dead. Mother was always sure the Angel came for her.

The Waltham Fire Engine

Practice day once a year was one of the highlights of the year! It was drawn by a horse, and was filled with water from the pump near to the school. The men would pump the handles on either side of the tank in the middle. It had a lot of publicity when Belvoir Castle caught on fire. It was handed up the stairs to the heart of the fire, where some of the bigger engines could not get. It is now in Leicester Museum. (Editor’s note: The engine is now back in the village and on display – click here to view.)

The Other Kellams

My father was uncle to Harry Kellam, who lived at the bottom of Mill Lane. He was a carpenter and wheelwright. He kept a pig in a sty – all the people round would take bits of food for the pig. Large pots of pig taters were boiled. When they were put outside to cool we kids helped ourselves. There was a large pit under the saw bench to catch the sawdust. When he made a wheel a very large fire was made outside, and we would go and watch the iron band put round the wheel.

Dad used to mend and clean our shoes. Ours and his were done with Dubbin to make them waterproof. We had blakeys in the toes and heels, and I wore boots until I left school. The shoes were a bit tight but I didn’t complain – I was too pleased to have them. One week my father asked for some Parish Relief, and all he got was 10 shillings. Often he would walk miles to do a days hedge cutting or dykeing. There were no Wellingtons then.

Mr. G. Higgins

Mr. Higgins was our schoolmaster for 40 years. There was a club started called the Waltham Friendly Society, which paid benefits to the sick. Once a year the members would carry staves and attend a church service. Afterwards a meal was had in the Club Room at the Royal Horsehoes Inn.

My sister once said she had seen someone carrying a joint of beef “as big as me”. The Friendly Society carried on until the Welfare State took over. Mrs Higgins taught us girls sewing. They had a son who was crippled, and a daughter Mary.


We used to take Dad’s tea in a milk can, there were no flasks then. Mother would put an egg in the tea can and it would be eatable when it got to Dad. The milk can would be swung round and round. One day the lid came off and I was in trouble – I lost the tea.
We used to get to know when the field was nearly done cutting and we would go and watch the rabbits come out. If we were lucky we took one home.

Click here to read part 2.


  1. Hi,

    Betsy Welborn is the spelling I believe and I am related to her. She is my great great grandfather (George Musson)’s niece, the daughter of Ann Musson and Thomas Welborn! A number of my family are from in and around Waltham.


  2. Richard Snodin

    I had the great pleasure of working with Betsy’s husband, Ernie Roythorne, for a while back in 1970/71 at Stapleford Park – I still remember his wonderful sense of humour!
    I fondly recalled Ernie as I transcribed Betsy’s memories…which in places I found quite poignant & moving, but totally fascinating.

  3. Alan Roythorne

    I am the eldest son of Bess (Betsy was not the name she used) and Ernie. I thought that you would like to know that mum penned a number of books for the family. Some are made up of sayings etc. I also have a photograph of Rose Cottage and of the sisters and two brothers. The Lion Reserve was at the Safari Park in the grounds of Stapleford Park. It was run with the aid of Mary Chipperfield and was one of the first in the country.

  4. Betsy was the daughter of George Kellam . If he was the George Lovett Kellam bap. 5 Sep 1858, s.o. William Kellam and Rebekah (nee Lovett) then we are related. I am descended from William’s second wife and I have traced all the Kellam line back to the late 1500’s plus all the maternal lines.
    William and his extended family all lived in Workhouse Yard.

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