Old man tells his tale – Tell of an underground tunnel
We stopped to inquire if there were any needle makers left in Long Crendon and where they dwelt. We soon discovered there was yet one remaining and, out of a population of 1,250 souls, we sought the sole remnant of his race.
Out of this quiet spot in days of yore, came the tapestry and cross-stitch, the tambour and the netting needles which high-born dames in many a stately chamber and hall wrought with dainty device into the marvellous and fairy-like creations of the period.
Surgeons’ needles for all the wounds of the world sped forth on their errand of mercy from this quiet spot and not a navy rode proudly on the waters without paying a tribute to the skill of the Long Crendon Sailmakers’ needles.
From hence the renowned Squires, of famous memory, and all the brethren of his craft, derived their supplies. The stamps and presses, the harding shop, and all the gear of needledom are still to be found off the quiet village street, but the scions of the ancient race are gone to fresh woods and pastures new.
Soon the last of the needlemakers will lay aside his tools and in the sweet tranquillity of rural life enjoy a serene old age of well-earned repose. We always like, in these places to get on the trail of the oldest inhabitant. You can generally learn something, and by dint of patience and perseverance, we discovered him; at any rate he was eighty-six, which is pretty well for these degenerate days.
He was bale and hearty, gave us a kindly welcome and seemed pleased with our interest in old needle-land. Sitting in the chimney corner, with a comely granddaughter to prompt his memory, he began to recite a goodly portion of the history of Long Crendon for eighty and six years.
“How old is the needle-making in this place?” “I don’t know and never heard, but I am eighty-six and my father was a needle-maker and his father before him.” (The writer reckons this to be 250 years of needle making).
“From where did the needle-making come into this place?” “I can’t tell and never heard any one say.” “Do you know of any book or books giving the history of Long Crendon?” “No I do not.” “How much older is needle making in Redditch than in Long Crendon?”
“Not any older. There never were needles made in Redditch until we went to teach them.” “Oh! Come! Come! That will not do! You Crendoners came to Redditch because it was well known as the centre of the trade.”
“No, we didn’t. We was the original teachers.” We failed to shake the old gentleman on the point and he continued his history.”
… At one time needles of all kind were being made in Crendon. There were two brothers who employed 20 hands making nothing but sail needles. There were The Shrimptons all over this place with every Biblical Christian name you can mention and combinations such as John David. They made surgeons, sail, rag, cheuille, tambour, netting, crochet and bodkins. Kirby had a factory which employed 60 hands but the carriage in coal was very dear and the railway did not come to Thame and so he went to Redditch. That is his factory across the field; it was two sides of a quadrangle but one of them is partly pulled down. Soon after Kirby moved his factory to Redditch the railway came to Thame and he said he was very sorry he was not in possession of the fact that the railway accommodation was coming so quickly, if he had known it, his factory would be going now in Crendon.”
We talked long upon the mysteries of Notley and the wonderful underground passage, two miles in length, along the banks of the river to the Prebendal in Thame, but time and railway trains will not wait and we strode across the country just in time to catch the train and bade goodbye (but not we trust for ever) to the Old Needle Land.