Boats, Bells and Blossoms is the title given to volume 11 in a series of booklets published by the Eydon Historical Research Group.
In the introduction this is described as a ‘varied and fascinating collection of articles’. These feature village gardens and allotments, polio and boat building, the church bells and a First World War memorial cross. Two of the articles are based on research undertaken by Kevin Lodge a founder member who made a significant pioneering contribution to the work of the EHRG.
The volume opens with Lyn Evans looking at the village gardens and how they have changed over time from the purely utilitarian to the more decorative gardens of today. David Kench then covers the unusual ownership of Eydon’s allotment gardens which may date back to before Eydon’s Enclosure Act of 1762. The two final articles are both related to the church: ‘The Rickety Bell Frame’ and the tailpiece ‘The Wooden Cross at Eydon’. Volume 11 deserves wide readership and should hold the reader to the end.
The piece that caught my eye was ‘Polio and the Eydon Mayde’ by Caroline Bedford based on research by Kevin Lodge about the scourge of polio and its unlikely connection with the building of the canal boat the Eydon Mayde.
This contribution centres on Dick and Sheila Syers who had settled in Eydon in 1951, first in North Lodge and then at 5 High Street. Their son Godfrey developed the dreadful disease of polio in August 1953, which attacks the nerves of the brain and spinal cord leading to paralysis of the muscles some shrivelling and dying while others can be reactivated by exercises. There is no cure.
Geoffrey was not the only victim of the disease in the Eydon area, two others are mentioned. It is unclear how he caught it but Sheila thought it might have something to do with when he had slipped and fallen on the side of a cattle trough in Tays Close, badly cutting his head. His initial symptoms were inability to move his legs and a high fever. His treatment lasted many years. The doctor sent him to the Pines in Banbury where he was given a lumbar puncture, from there he transferred to Slade Isolation Hospital in Oxford. When he recovered enough he was transferred to the Manfield Orthopaedic Hospital in Northampton for intensive physiotherapy and underwent several operations. Sheila had to encourage him to walk with the aid of callipers. Weights were used to strengthen his muscles. He eventually was able to walk to the village school and became very proficient at climbing which led him into trouble on more than one occasion, climbing out of his bedroom window and on to the roof of the village hall.
In 1958, concerned about his son’s future Dick Syers decided to build a boat which would form a source of income from hiring out. Much of the article is devoted to how Dick obtained the materials: packing cases from Export Packing, for whom he worked, for a platform and an oak tree with a natural bend from Lord Brand. His colleagues reckoned the end product was going to be the ‘first submarine built in the Midlands’. The Eydon Mayde was launched three years later and hired to family and friends for trips on the canal. Its true shape was revealed in the Banbury Guardian for June 22, 1961.
The boat was sold in 1963. Geoffrey had shown no interest in it and it is unlikely he knew of the vision of the boat as an income generator. The Eydon Mayde’s subsequent history is unknown.
In 1985 Rotary International joined WHO, Unicef, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a pledge to rid the world of polio. To maintain this progress two billion doses of oral vaccine have to be administered each year. Banbury Rotary Clubs work hard to raise money and awareness by encouraging sponsored purple crocus displays in public spaces and the Crocus Concerts.
*Details of EHRG publications including Boats, Bells and Blossoms are on their website eydonhistoricalresearchgroup.org.