|This was written by Lilian Smither, a daughter of the Westbrook family in the early 1980s|
About the year 1895 my grandfather, William Westbrook, a yeoman farmer, living at Lower Froyle, a small village in Hampshire, decided it was time that a long outstanding debt was settled, so he took the law into his own hands. Very early one morning he harnessed two of his horses to a farm wagon and, accompanied by one of his carters, set forth. The distance was about 15 miles to a farm in a village of the neighboring county. The money not being forthcoming, he thereupon collected goods to the value of the amount owing and commenced the long trek back home, and so the debt was satisfactorily settled.
When it grew dusk my grandmother, then well over 70 years of age, became uneasy as grandfather had not returned. Lighting a hurricane lantern she walked to our house, called for her son and together they went through the village to the main road. This village road was very narrow, very rough and in many places trees met overhead. There was an avenue of trees at the end of the road and even in the day time it was dark and gloomy. At night the darkness was such that it could be felt and one could pass other travelers on the road without seeing them; only their footsteps could be heard.
The main road was a turnpike, on which tollgates were established by law. There they waited and listened. They could hear the horses’ hooves upon the road and the rattle of the wagon. At the cross roads one can imagine the shouting and the “Wooa Wooa,” as the swinging of the lantern would be a sign that someone was waiting for them. Then with grandmother and her lantern in front they all proceeded through the village street to the home farm.
Among the goods grandfather collected were four sets of horse bells. These were used on special occasions and in 1900 at a “Harvest Home” in the village, grandfather’s four horses and decorated wagon, complete with horse bells, won first prize. The bells were fixed to the horses’ collars and made sweet music as they walked. The bells, no doubt, contributed towards the gaining of the prize. These bells were also used at night to give audible warning of approach as the farm wagons had no lights.
The years passed, grandmother and grandfather died and an uncle living in the same village acquired the horse bells. They rested in his attic for several years. I paid uncle a visit and he showed me the bells lying on the floor of the attic covered in dust, beside the rotting apples and pears. I admired the old bells but uncle never so much as lifted them from their dusty bed and I had to be content to leave them there. In due course of time uncle died and we of the family said, “What about the horse bells?” After a while we learned that auntie had sent them to a Museum in a nearby town and there they rest to this day.
Grandfather’s method of settling a debt was quite unlawful no doubt, even in those far off days, but he avoided a County Court action and its costs, and one feels that the bells are quite safe in their last resting place. They will not return to a dusty attic nor be sold to a scrap iron dealer.