Alfie Houghton reached the age of nearly 97 and had lived in Leigh for 77 years. His own story is given in the book “We Had Everything . . .” by Chris Rowley, but this summary, compiled from the memories of a great number of people in the village, seeks to highlight his place in the village over this huge number of years.
When Alfie arrived at Hall Place as Estate Clerk he found himself in what was almost Victorian society. The Hollendens ruled. And while the 1st and 2nd Lord Hollendens were paternalistic and liked to emphasize – rightly – their care and generosity to the village, the matter of running the large Estate and collecting rents from around 100 houses was left to others – mainly Alfie. It cannot have been an easy role, particularly in the depression of the 1920’s and 1930’s. As one villager says, “As the eyes and ears of Lord Hollenden, it cannot have been a comfortable job. He was caught between two worlds. He had to distance himself from the Estate workers and I do not think people always remember that”. Most of the houses on the Estate were not sold off until the 1960s and over all those years, Alfie dealt with the accounts and management of the Estate and the farms with loyalty, determination and efficiency.
Amazingly, Alfie was also working full-time for Lord Hollenden in London from 1930 onwards and his renown for hard work would be secure on the basis of these two jobs alone. However, at the same time Alfie was contributing hugely to the village. Even if some will say he was not part of the day-to-day life of the villagers, the list of things where he was an active participant is huge. He was the first table tennis coach from 1927 and nearly thirty years later he still helped found the Leigh Club when it entered the League.
He was the Secretary or Treasurer of the Cricket Club, which he loved, as well as the 2nd XI Captain for around thirty years. He was hugely involved in the Village Institute – the forerunner of the Legion for many years and he was one of the founders of The Leigh Village Produce Association over 62 years ago (as well as exhibiting every year, including 2002) – usually winning many of the prizes. He was a Parish Councillor – including being Chairman; and he was a School Governor.
He far-sightedly – if probably annoyingly for the recipients – understood that many aspects of the village which had once been the responsibility of the Estate had to be reassigned. He persuaded Lord Hollenden to donate the Green to the village and in 1984 the Village Halls were also given to the Parish. “I’ve just got rid of another encumbrance”, he said with great pleasure to a dubious parish councillor. And he was always ready to help with complex village legal matters, as Chloe Phillips recalls.
So, to add to his loyal service to the Hope Morley family, we must acknowledge the debt that the village owes to Alfie for his hard work here.
However, these are all things that Alfie DID. It is important when celebrating him to recall also his character – not something that everyone agrees about. To some – mainly those who did not know him well (or were not prepared to get to know him well) he was grumpy or worse. Ironically, this was often an impression that he seemed to want to give people to start with. Conversations with Alfie – whether it was about the Estate or about gardening – usually started with him making it clear that he knew best. One elderly villager remembers her father referred to Alfie as “Huffy” and what nearly everyone who knew him well goes on to say is that it was normally a ploy to get the other person to fight back. If you didn’t do so, Alfie thought the less of you. He expected you to stick up for yourself, just as he had had to do in his own life. He told one new young Cricket Committee Member that he should state his views, that was why he was on the Committee: being young and new had nothing to do with it. And most stories about Alfie were like that.
John Knock recalls his last talk with Alfie a few months back when John was explaining that he had been issued with a Kent Cricket swipe card to enable him to get into Kent matches for free. Alfie said “But I still wouldn’t want to impersonate you – you’re too fat”. He got the expected reply from John “And I wouldn’t want to impersonate you – you’re too ‘ock-oord’.” Both were pleased with the exchange. It was part of Alfie’s battle to amuse himself and keep people on their toes.
Perhaps only once was he completely outmanoeuvred. A nervous Chris Rowley – having never really met Alfie properly – asked Mike Rice to introduce him so that Alfie could be asked about contributing to “We Had Everything . . .”. In Alfie’s office (naturally); Alfie started by shouting at Chris Rowley – “Do you ever go to church?” “Not very often …”. “Well – that’s all right then – I haven’t always got on with our vicars”, said Alfie. But Mike Rice added. “Don’t worry Alfie. I go to church and I pray for you”. General laughter and the start of an eccentric relationship, ending up in genuine respect and fondness.
I am not sure whether Alfie will approve of God – probably not – unless God is quick with repartee and can make it clear that HE is as good at managing HIS Estate as Alfie was at his.
Parish Magazine Article: Feb 2003: by Chris Rowley