Had it not been for the Luftwaffe, I would have been born a Mancunian – as it was, so my Mother told me – that due to as particularly heavy air raid on Manchester late in the evening of 20th October 1943, she and other heavily pregnant women were evacuated from St Mary’s Maternity Hospital, put into ambulances and driven out into the Cheshire countryside towards Prestbury.
Sir Oswald Moseley, leader of the British Fascist Party had apparently owned a mansion called “Collar House” in Prestbury, and this had been requisitioned as a maternity hospital – it was here that my Mother was brought just after midnight on the 21st October. I was born about 10.30 am that morning.
After about a week in Prestbury, my Mother and I returned to “The Hollies” near Carrington – this was the farm where my Uncle Harry and Aunt Dolly (my Dad’s oldest sister) lived. Mum and Dad had lived at “The Hollies” for about a year since their marriage in Southport.
My earliest photo – 31st October 1943
From about 1940, my Dad had been the northern representative for (BAC) – the Bristol Aeroplane Company – in those days production of various parts of fighter and bomber aircraft were contracted out to engineering companies all over the country – his role was to re-organize continued production in factories that had been blitzed. His work took him northwards of Coventry and all over the north of England and Scotland. From time to time he would return to the BAC at Filton, Bristol, and stay with Edna – another of his sisters – who lived with her husband first in Bristol, and later in Clevedon.
We moved down to Clevedon early in January 1944, and lived for about a year in a flat in a house called “The Chestnuts” which was on the corner of Cambridge Road and Kings Road. Mum and Dad were then offered a requisitioned house called “Riverdale” at 76 Old Church Road – we moved there in 1945.
Number 76 Old Church Road, is the first house I remember, it was a large stone-built detached Edwardian house with a low walled front garden. A path led down the left side of the house to the enclosed back garden. The dark green front door was off this path and led into the hall with stairs leading upwards, the front room (with bay window) was off to the right. To the left of the hall was the dining room – which led through to the kitchen, where there was a “Belfast” sink with an Ascot over, and beside this was a gas cooker. Outside the back door were a couple of steps down to a brick paved courtyard, where there stood a pump and there was a door leading to the outside loo.
Looking down the back garden, there was a large shed to the right. To the left, a lawn and rockery – beyond which was a soft fruit and vegetable garden and a rough area right at the bottom. At the very end of the garden was a low stone wall which looked over the meandering Land Yeo River.
Me and Dad in the back garden of “Riverdale”
Upstairs were two double bedrooms – Mum and Dad’s over the front room, another over the kitchen, and in between, a smaller bedroom (mine), plus a landing with a small adjoining room containing a toilet and washbasin, with a small Ascot over.
Next door, in what had formerly been a small farmhouse, were the Golding Family – Ewart and Alice Golding with their three boys – Ted, Bert and Jack, and their older daughter, Miriam.
The two younger boys (Bert and Jack) used to spend a lot of time with me – sometimes they looked after me when my Mother went shopping and I used to help them feed their chickens. If my Mum was agreeable, they would even take me to the Nursery School in Coleridge Vale.
The Golding boys had a canoe made from a WW2 aircraft fuel tank – they would often take me – unknown to my Mother – for adventures up and down the Land Yeo.
At the end of the War, Dad transferred to the Planning Department, Technical Division of the newly formed Car Production Division at BAC (Filton) – working six days a week. He went off quite early to work in the morning before I was awake, and returned home at about half-past six in the evening. I remember that on sunny days, I would wait by the front gate for his bus – he would be on the rear platform of the bus, hanging onto the rail. The bus stop was opposite the bottom of Victoria Road – he would drop off as the bus began slowing down, and I would run out of our front gate and up the pavement to meet him.
One of Dad’s best friends at this time was the local policeman – P.C. Poole. He lived in a police house on the Fernville Estate with his wife and daughter (Janet). P.C. Poole used to take my Dad out hunting rabbits using a ferret and an old jacket – we used to eat a lot of rabbit then. P.C. Poole was also a keen gardener and I remember I used to spend quite a lot of time round at his house “helping” him in his garden.
Dad had another friend, who came to stay from time to time – I knew him as “Uncle Charlie.” I believe he had been a commando during the War and he was immensely strong.
One time I recall, when “Uncle Charlie” was staying with us, Charles Heal’s Fun-Fair came to the Salthouse Fields – “Uncle Charlie” and Dad took me. I think it was probably the first time I’d ever been to the fair. There was a “Wall of Death” where motor cyclists rode round the inside of a smooth-sided circular wall about twenty feet high – much to the gasps of the crowd peering over the edge. There were dodgems, roundabouts, coco-nut shies, toffee-apples, shooting gallery, and a boxing booth . . . . . . . . .
Me and Uncle Charlie
The boxing booth was in the centre of a largish marquee, which you paid to enter. Once inside, male members of the crowd were encouraged to strip to the waist, don a pair of boxing gloves and enter the ring to face the “Fairground Champion.” Apparently, if you survived one round – you got 2/6, if you survived two rounds – you got 5/-, and if you survived three rounds – then you got 10/-. If you managed to knockout the “Fairground Champ” – then you got £5.
As we stood there, a steady stream of bruised and bleeding unsuccessful combatants appeared from time to time from the marquee. I remember that “Uncle Charlie” wanted to go in to see what was happening. Dad – as he knew several of the people waiting outside – asked if they minded looking after me for a few minutes whilst he and Charlie went inside. After a few minutes, however, there came the sound of loud cheering from inside the boxing booth – and people outside began pressing forwards towards the entrance to see what was going on inside the marquee. I slipped away from my “minders” and squeezed my way through the entrance towards the boxing ring to see “Uncle Charlie” pulverising the “Fairground Champ” against the ropes – it didn’t even last one round !! The unconscious “Fairground Champ” was unceremoniously carried from the ring, and, after a lot of arguing, “Uncle Charlie” (who was unmarked) got his £5 prize. It was a proud moment for me to be hoisted up onto his shoulders and carried through the appreciative crowds – he carried me like that, all the way home. Though we visited the fairground a few more times during that week, the Boxing Booth marquee was always closed.
Out and About
Whilst I recall absolutely nothing of the actual War, I do remember the rationing that began in the War, and lasted for a good many years afterwards. I remember that every week or two, I used to go with my Mum to the “White House” in Highdale Road – opposite Christ Church. Here we got my supplies of concentrated orange juice, bottles of cod-liver oil and jars of malt. I – and thousands of other children across the nation – were given daily teaspoons of foul-tasting cod-liver oil, quickly followed by a teaspoon of concentrated orange and then a desert-spoon full of malt. From what I remember, this daily torture went on for many years.
There were no supermarkets during the 1940’s and early 1950’s – we got our groceries from Mr Dyer’s shop in Strode Road, our coal from Victor Peglar – whose yard was on the corner of Coleridge Road and Old Church Road. Our fish came from Mr House – his shop was on the corner of Lower Queens Road. Other shops I knew well were the International Stores – where everything seemed to be wrapped in either blue sugar paper or grease-proof paper – I remember the large square tins of broken biscuits from which I was allowed to take one or two whenever we visited. Parkers sold bread and cakes. We used to get our meat from Hasnip’s (in Station Road) run by Bob Hasnip, his brother Tim and their mother. Our vegetables used to come from Billet’s and there was Hodder’s the chemist if we needed medecine.
Sometimes Mum used to take me to a tearoom in Old Church Road called the “Golden Slipper” (now the Cheung Chaw) – I liked going there because of the sticky cakes and the friendly ladies who worked there. I was also fascinated by the French windows that allowed access onto the bank of the Land Yeo.
Another of my favourite haunts, however, was to visit the big shed that housed the town’s steamroller – just down the road from my house and opposite the entrance to Coleridge Road. The steamroller had been built by John Fowler & Co. of Leeds in about 1929 with the serial number of 18637. Clevedon Urban District Council had acquired it in about 1931, and when I knew it, it was coloured brown – apparently it still exists today in Devon and is now painted red.
The former Clevedon Town steamroller in current livery
I loved to be near this mighty traction engine as it snorted smoke from its chimney and hissed with escaping steam. It was lovingly looked after by a couple of roadmen (whose names I’ve long-forgotten), and they took a delight in my interest in their beautiful machine. Whenever I visited them, they would sometimes lift me aboard to look at the furnace. If ever I saw them trundling about Clevedon, I would get a friendly wave and usually a loud blast on their whistle.
Life in Clevedon for a small child in the mid to late 1940’s, was a lot safer than today – in Lower Clevedon, everyone was very friendly and seemed to know everyone else – there was little traffic on the roads and I often used to spend a lot of time wandering about with the Golding boys or with our dog “Butch.”
“Butch” was a funny, rascally character – a Yorkshire terrier who was very loyal and whom, I suppose, for the few years that we had him, was my best friend.
Me and “Butch”
“Butch” was well-known in Lower Clevedon as being a bit of a rascal – Dad and I once witnessed him scampering out of Hasnip’s butcher’s shop with a string of sausages in his mouth, chased by Bob Hasnip, armed with a meat cleaver. Bob never caught “Butch” but I remember him remonstrating with my Dad for having such an uncontrollable dog.
“Butch” and I often went to Clevedon Railway station – where I knew everyone – to watch the steamtrain going back and forth to Yatton. I used to sit on the edge of the platform, near the buffers, with my legs dangling over until the train came into view. Then I would go and help collect the tickets from the passengers on their way out of the station. “Butch” got so used to the staff at Clevedon Station that he often used to go there on his own – and more than once, he jumped aboard the train and travelled on his own to Yatton. After fun and games at Yatton trying to catch him, the staff there would eventually get him back on the train, for the return trip to Clevedon.
Arriving at Clevedon Station from Yatton
Disruption and Change of Scene
In the Autumn of 1946, when I was just three, my Mum contracted tuberculosis – she was in hospital at Frenchay in Bristol for about three months and during that time, I went to stay with my Aunt Edna and Uncle Stuart at “Combe Hay” in Hallam Road. Dad spent his time between work at Bristol Cars, seeing Mum every day for a few hours at Frenchay, and then returning to 76 Old Church Road, to sleep.
My cousin Pat took me “under her wing” whilst I was living with my Aunt Edna – I think my life was so full of interesting things to do, that although I saw my Dad from time to time at weekends, I don’t recall being troubled by the absence of either my Mum or my Dad. Pat, who was about sixteen years older than me, used to push me about in my pushchair all over Clevedon – usually in the company of her many boyfriends – we seemed to spend a lot of time going for walks along the cliff path at Ladye Bay, and visiting secluded spots over the top of Hangstone Quarry or going round Dial Hill.
It was whilst staying at Aunt Edna’s and Uncle Stuart’s, that in the days leading up to Guy Fawkes night, my cousin Stuart – who was about thirteen years of age – decided to make some fireworks. His plan was to make his own gunpowder, put it in cardboard tubes, roll newspaper round the outside and put a twist at one end for the fuse. We were in his Dad’s Victorian greenhouse, and Stuart had already made a number of fireworks a few days earlier, and had them stored in a box on the floor. He was making a second batch and had put all the necessary ingredients for making gunpowder (suphur, saltpetre, charcoal etc) together and was grinding it up with a pestle and mortar. Suddenly, there was a flash – the contents of the mortar ignited – and Stuart dropped the flaming receptacle accidentally into the box of completed fireworks. Within seconds, he and I were fleeing from an exploding greenhouse – Uncle Stuart was not amused with the damage to his greenhouse !
On the night of the 5th November, dressed in warm coats, gloves and scarves and armed with bought fireworks, we carried baking trays full of Aunt Edna’s homemade black treacle toffee – Aunt Edna, Uncle Stuart, my cousins Pat and Stuart, me and my Dad, made our way up the zig-zag to Dial Hill to witness the biggest bonfire and firework display that I’d ever seen.
When Mum came out of hospital, she had to convalesce for anything upto six months. As Dad was in the process of leaving Bristol Cars to begin a One-Year Emergency Teacher Training Course at Exmouth, and as Mum wasn’t fit enough to be on her own to look after me, she and I went by train up to Southport, in Lancashire, to be looked after by her Aunts at 143 Duke Street. We were in Southport for about three months, during which time I caught german measles.
Whilst staying with the Aunts, when I wasn’t actually ill, I spent quite a bit of time digging a vast hole at the far end of the back garden – nobody ever came to check on what I was doing. On the day of our departure, I announced to the Aunts what I had been doing over the past weeks and invited them to come and see my handiwork. They were somewhat horrified to see what I had achieved, and I learned later, that they had had to employ a man to fill in the hole. Mum and I returned to Clevedon on the train, and we were soon off again for a week down in Exmouth to see Dad.
It was during this week that we met up with Dad’s new friend, Leslie Colbeck – also training to be a teacher at Rolle College. Leslie’s wife Yvonne, with their daughter, Jeanette, were also visiting Exmouth during the same week. The friendship between our two families was to continue for around ten years with holidays spent together – either them coming to Clevedon or us going to Southampton and Bournmouth – where the Colbeck’s lived.
Jeanette and me on Exmouth Beach
EDUCATION, PLAY and OTHER THINGS
In early September 1948 I started at Wycliffe School in Linden Road, Clevedon – the Headteacher (Miss Starr) was a formidable lady with steel grey hair drawn back into a bun and a pair of spectacles perched on the end of her nose – she terrified all the younger children and probably many of the older ones too. Wycliffe was a girls’ school that took girls up to the age of about fourteen and boys up to the age of about six.
To begin with, I only went half-days – my Mum used to take me in the morning and collect me at lunchtimes. Just before my fifth birthday in October, I started going full-time to Wycliffe. Mum would collect me and take me home for lunch and afterwards would take me part of the way back – letting me go the rest of the way of my own. For the first few weeks, she would leave me in Linden Road, then after a few more weeks she’d leave me at the end of Princes Road. Mum always came to collect me at the end of the afternoon.
Resplendent in my new Wycliffe uniform
As the distance I was allowed to travel on my own increased, I frequently dawdled on my way back to school in the afternoon and often arrived late. When reprimanded by my teacher (Mrs Harris) for being constantly late – I blamed my Mum for making me help with the washing up after lunch. This excuse worked well for a number of weeks, until unexpectedly (for me), Miss Starr confronted my Mum in the playground after school, to complain that “helping with the washing-up was making me late for afternoon school.” When the truth came out, my Mum began shouting at me in the playground and clouting me around the head in front of lots of amused mothers and rather startled children !
By the start of the Autumn Term 1948, Dad also started his new school – he had been appointed as a teacher at Carlton Park Boys’ Secondary School in Russel Town Avenue, East Bristol. Initially his responsibility was as form-master of a class of eleven year old boys – teaching general subjects. The Headmaster was a really nice man by the name of Fred Greenland – he was affectionately known as “Pop” by all the boys. He’d been wounded in the First World War and had been Head of Carlton Park for years – and was much loved and respected by practically all of the families in that part of East Bristol.
Dad’s real flair was in Art, and his artistic skills were soon recognised and appreciated by “Pop.” Over the years, Dad developed the Art Education in the school to such a high standard that he was promoted as Head of Art – and in time, was able to take over the vacant Infant School building next door and organise it into a six-room Art Department. During the 1950’s, many of his lads were selected for further training at the Royal West of England College of Art.
Moving to 48 Westbourne Avenue
Because Mum and Dad had been been living in a requisitioned house in Old Church Road since early in 1945, and the War had been over for two or three years, Clevedon Urban District Council gave them the opportunity of moving to one of the new council houses that were being built on the Westbourne Estate.
I remember going with my parents to look at number 48 Westbourne Avenue – on the corner of Westbourne and Pizey Avenue. As we had no key, we could only look through the ground floor windows – but even on that basis, my Parents agreed to have it. We moved in around Easter 1949.
48 Westbourne Avenue
It was so different from our last house – with a dual-aspect through-lounge with tiled grate and parquet flooring, a small entrance hall, a dining room with built-in cupboards, a solid-fuel Ideal Boiler and a bay window. It had a kitchen with an electric cooker, a Belfast sink with wooden drainer, a walk-in pantry and a walk-in cold-room. It also had a separate utility room with a sink, wash boiler, and airing cupboard containing a hot-tank fitted with an immersion heater. There was a covered outside porch leading to an outside loo and a block-built 15ft x 7ft flat-roofed storage shed (with window) containing a coal bunker in one corner .
Upstairs were two double bedrooms and a single bedroom – all with electric wall heaters and large built-in cupboards for clothes and storage. The bathroom, containing a bath, wash basin and loo, had partial central heating in the form of a heated towel rail taken off the Ideal Boiler which was downstairs in the dining room. At the front of the house was a very small garden, but down the side were two fairly large lawned areas. The 30 ft square back garden was bounded by high walls to the west and east, and the northern boundary was a wire fence which separated us from our neighbours in Pizey Avenue. After what we had experienced in Old Church Road for the last few years, number 48 Westbourne Avenue was a fantastic house.
Friends and Neighbours
Life on the Westbourne Council Estate in the late 1940’s and into the mid-1950’s – from a child’s point of view – was really good – the large areas of grass and the tarmac paths provided many opportunities for child and parent-centred activities. We played football and cricket, and used the tarmac paths as an athletic track. We fished for minnows and sticklebacks in the Land Yeo River near Sidney Keen’s Brickworks in Strode Road, and also fished in the lake – just beyond Westbourne Crescent where the Council were dumping household refuse – the sticklebacks in there were much bigger than you could ever find in the Land Yeo
We had dens in nearby fields and on Wain’s Hill and Old Church Hill. We roller-skated on the promenade between the Marine Lake and the Pier, we climbed trees in the copse above the Lake and near the swings on the Salthouse Fields and sailed home-made model boats on the Marine Lake. With magnifying glasses, we sometimes lit small fires on Old Church Hill – though once, one of these got out of hand and the Clevedon fire brigade had to come. We looked for and collected .303 brass cartridge cases of bullets fired on the rifle-range out on the sea-wall. We searched for conger eels in the rocks on the foreshore below Old Church and Wain’s Hill, we carved secret symbols and our initials in the bark of trees with our sheath-knives, we dug for treasure and made collections of all manner of strange objects that we found – a much treasured possession of mine was a bag of what we “believed” were emeralds – they were, in fact, decorative green glass pieces from gravestones in St Andrew’s Churchyard.
Whenever the Marine Lake was emptied – in the vain hope of reducing the accumulated mud from the bathing area – we used to search the lake bed near where the paddle boats and rowing boats were for hire in the summer. You could always guarantee, that if you were there searching as soon as the lake was being emptied, you could always find sixpences, shillings, the odd florin or half-crown. Another occasional source of revenue was to be found on the Salthouse Fields immediately after the Fair had left – usually it was only pennies, three-penny bits or sixpences. If however, you wanted a more regular source of income from Easter to the end of the summer holidays, then collecting any empty lemonade bottles along the promenade and taking them back to the many outlets along the length of the sea-front was the thing to do – each bottle had a deposit of between three-pence and sixpence, so you could easily amass enough money to buy yourself some lemonade or an ice-cream with your share of the proceeds.
We played war-games with real tin helmets, gas masks, bayonets and a de-activated hand grenade in a field just off Pizey Avenue, known as the “Donkey Field.” We had “pop” guns that fired corks, cap pistols and potato-guns, as well as water pistols and home-made catapults and bows and arrows – it was a wonder that no one got killed or had their eye poked out !
In 1949, some of the Westbourne Estate was still being constructed – particularly between the electricity sub-station next to 56 Westbourne Avenue and on towards Strode Road – the foundation trenches and stacks of breeze blocks, provided wonderful opportunities for adventures over several weeks. Quite a lot of the houses on the Westbourne Estate were either semi-detached or in blocks of four – we lived in one of the blocks of four. The two end houses (numbers 42 and 48) had external gates to the back garden, whilst the middle two houses had a tunnel or passage to access their back gardens.
Next door to us at number 46, were Bill and Betty Palmer and their son Nicky – Bill worked on the railways. Next to them were the Page Family and next door to them, at number 42, were Norman and Cynthia Wright and their son Barry.
Norman was a very friendly man who would do anything for you – he was a good amateur decorator and I remember him helping Mum and Dad decorate rooms in our house on several occasions during the time we were there. Norman had been in the Gloucester Regiment during the the Second World War and I remember him being called-up again to fight in the Korean War in 1950.
When my Mum started teaching at Baptist Mills Secondary School in Bristol, Cynthia used to come each morning from just before 8.00 am for a couple of hours to clean for my Mum – she also did the washing and ironing and looked after me before I set off for school The cleaning arrangement between my Mum and Cynthia Wright continued for about ten years – long after we had left Westbourne Avenue.
Next to us in Pizey Avenue were Mr and Mrs Belcher – their son, John, was one of my friends – Mr Belcher worked at Wake & Dean Furniture Factory in Yatton. Mrs Belcher used to look after me – after I’d come home from school – until my parents arrived home from Bristol. Next door to them were Mr and Mrs Cooke – Mr Cooke worked on Clevedon Pier and their son, Michael, was also one of my friends. Next door again were the Henley Family – Mr Henley was a cheerful man with a ready smile. He owned a rather large motorbike and sidecar – and from what I remember, he seemed to spend a lot of time tinkering with this machine. Mrs Henley, however, was a rather difficult lady – her feelings towards us depended on how her two children – Paul and Pauline – were being treated by the rest of us.
Me, John, Pauline and Michael
In the last of the council houses on that side of Pizey Avenue, were the Davis Family. Mr Davis worked at the Coastguard Signal Station at Walton Bay. Mr and Mrs Davis had two sons – Austin (who was a couple of years older than the rest of us) and Bobby (who was younger than us). We had many adventures with Bobby – many of which usually ended up with him getting wet ! In their back garden, the Davis Family had a large walk-in aviary filled with budgies and canaries. They also kept several large hutches filled with rabbits – which were bred to eat.
Across from us in Pizey Avenue were the Webb Family – from what I remember, they were quite a noisy family – Mrs Web and her daughters always seemed to be shouting at each other about something or other, or Mrs Webb would be out shouting at her son, Colin, or her husband. Mr Webb owned a shooting brake – he often had his head under the bonnet of this vehicle – probably to keep out of the way of his complaining wife. Mr Webb owned the only fish and chip shop in Clevedon, almost opposite the Triangle Clock.
Next to the Webb’s were the Stone Family – John Stone was a really nice man. Before the war, he had worked at the Co-op (on the corner of Station Road and Old Church Road). I believe he had been in Bomber Command and was shot down over the Ardennes and was, I recollect, a prisoner-of-war before being freed in 1945. After the war, he returned to his old job at the Co-op.
John Stone and my Dad became very good friends over the years. They did the Littlewood Football Pools together – hoping to win a fortune – but they never did. John and Norah Stone were frequent visitors to our house in the evening and vice versa. Their son Chris, was my best friend – and it was he, who introduced me to collecting stamps and collecting autographs of sports personalities.
Next to the Stone’s were the Clothier’s – Mr Clothier was a postman and also a special constable. He and his wife had young twins – I’m afraid that Chris and I sometimes used to tease them unmercifully to make them cry.
On the opposite side of Westbourne Avenue from me, were two more of my friends – Terry Short, whose Dad was “the Man from the Pru,” and Jimmy Bridle – he and I often played at stalking wild beasts in the jungle whilst wearing a large fearsome tiger-skin rug that his grandfather had given him.
Round in Westbourne Crescent was one more friend – John Price. He was the son of one of my boyhood football heroes – the great Herbert George “Bert” Price. John and I were the same age and later attended St Andrew’s School and Weston Boys’ Grammar School at the same time.
St. Nicholas School
When my sixth birthday came along in October 1949, arrangements were already in hand for me to move from Wycliffe School to St. Nicholas School in Herbert Road – I moved there in early 1950. My Dad obviously thought that private education was a “good thing” – in reality however, St Nicholas was an awful school. It had about forty-five boys aged from six to about fourteen years run by the Rev. St. Dennis Fry.
There were three permanent staff at St Nicholas – Miss Coulson, Mr “Barney” Barnes (who wore long-johns tucked into his socks), and the Rev. Fry. There were also two part-time teachers – Mr and Mrs Robinson. Tommy Wilkinson – who owned the Oak Room Cafe (above the Maxime Cinema) – used to come in to help with games and P.E. These activities were done mostly in Herbert Gardens or sometimes on the playing field adjacent to the Cricket Ground at Dial Hill.
St Nicholas School in Herbert Gardens 1950 – I’m on the extreme right of the front row. Staff from left to right: Tommy Wilkinson, Mrs Robinson, Mr Robinson, Rev Fry, Mr Barnes and Miss Coulson
St. Nicholas School had been originally opened by Mr Grundy – a gruff man who wore large brown boots and had his grey hair brushed straight back. He sported a walrus moustache and looked to us, a bit like Joseph Stalin – the then leader of the Soviet Union. When I was at St Nicholas, Mr Grundy would turn up from time to time, and we would all stand reverently as this ogre eyed us up and down. He would perch himself on a chair to one side at the front of the class, tell us to sit down, and then he would stay to listen to what was going on in our lesson. Over the years at St Nicholas, I became a pretty good speller and could draw and paint reasonably well – but I could do very little else.
Boys would begin arriving at school from around 8.30 am – the Rev. Fry slept in a one-roomed flat upstairs and we could often hear him snoring if we arrived early. He would subsequently appear and one of the older boys would collect the Union Jack from inside the school and hoist it up the flagpole at the front of the school. We would all troupe in for morning assembly – held in the front classroom – with Mr Barnes playing the piano. After Assembly we would then return to our classrooms.
My first classteacher at St Nicholas was Miss Coulson – she had about 12 boys in the small room overlooking the back yard. She taught us general subjects up till break-time each day.
Every day there were always two tea monitors in the morning – we all had to take it in turns. As a tea monitor, at about twenty-past ten, we had to go into the small kitchenette that was adjacent to Miss Coulson’s room. We would fill the kettle, light the gas on the stove and put the kettle on – and when it boiled, make tea for each of the teachers. The tea monitors carried the tea to each teacher wherever they were in the school – usually the two downstairs classrooms and one upstairs. Older boys from another class used to carry in the crates of third-pint bottles of milk from the front yard, to just inside the front door. Each boy was expected to collect one bottle of milk each per day from the crate as he went out into the back yard for morning play.
The back yard was actually a hard-packed area of gravel and stone-dust, bordered on one side by a stone wall, and on the other, by a high wire netting fence separating the school yard from next door’s garden. At the far end of the the yard was stone wall, about chest height, with “soldiers” on the top. If you looked over, you found yourself looking down onto the playground of Wycliffe School. It was great sport to hurl bits of gravel over the wall into their playground, and then hide from the girls and their teachers, behind the “soldiers” on top of the wall.
Because of our antics, the Rev. Fry was frequently visited by staff from Wycliffe who complained about our behaviour. We would then all be assembled in the yard to apologise in unison, to the ladies from Wycliffe. However, as soon as the Wycliffe Staff had set off back to their own premises – and the Rev. Fry had gone back inside – we knew we had about four minutes to mount a hail of gravel and other missiles onto the hapless girls before their teachers returned to Wycliffe playground.
When I first went to St Nicholas, some boys went home for dinner. Amazingly, however, all the St Nicholas staff used to depart at dinnertime too – leaving the rest of the boys to their own devices in the empty school. I used to take a packed lunch and there was always much swapping of sandwiches etc. between the boys.
All new boys staying in the school at dinnertime were put through an initiation ceremony by the “old hands.” In the ground-floor front classroom, was a walk-in storage cupboard. Innocent newcomers were shoved into this dark cupboard for a few minutes. Older boys (who had already hidden themselves on the shelves of this cupboard) would bombard you with balls of screwed-up paper and also books – together with high-pitched screams and shouts – all designed to scare the living daylights out of you !
One dinner-time I remember, some older boys began flicking milk from the half-empty milk bottles, at each other – this was soon picked up by more and more boys. The milk residue from the bottom of the bottles soon ran out, so milk bottles were then partially filled with water from the various taps around the school so that the “flicking” game could continue. As one can imagine, it was not long before the stairs, hall, landing and classrooms were swimming in milky water. Realising that there would be trouble, some of the older boys had the bright idea that we should clean it up before the teachers returned after lunch. Mops and rags were located and we all set to work. The results were somewhat patchy and rather unsatisfactory and so someone suggested that better results might be achieved by adding more water and soaking and mopping everything.
When the Rev. Fry and his staff returned after lunch, they found a very wet, but very clean school – and all the boys playing innocently outside in the yard – hoping not to raise any suspicions.
Retribution was swift, long and very hard on the ringleaders – many were caned – no one was left unpunished – I got an after-school detention. Detentions were recorded in the “Detention Book” together with details of the crimes committed. Details of these misdemeanours would, at the end of each term, accompany the School Report to parents. Many boys had several detentions for this dinner-time escapade, and no doubt fearing further parental retribution at the end of term, it was not surprising therefore, that the “Detention Book” listing all the criminals and their crimes “went missing” just a few days afterwards. The book was recovered a year or two later in the space under the floor of the front ground-floor classroom during some building repair work.
As a result of our lunch-time escapades, the opportunity for bringing packed lunches ceased. All those boys who could go home at lunchtimes had to do so – the rest (and I was one of them) had to pay for lunches at the Oak Room Cafe above the Maxime Cinema, and eat with the Rev. Fry. The Oak Room Cafe was run by Tommy Wilkinson. The cooked two-course lunch cost a shilling – the ten or so of us who stayed for lunch, were escorted down to the Oak Room Cafe by the Rev Fry – but not before he had checked and securely locked the school. After we had eaten and paid for our meal, we were escorted back to school again – in time for the afternoon session.
The Oak Room Cafe as I remember it
I remember a very sombre lunch at the Oak Room Cafe – it was Wednesday 6th February 1952 – the day on which King George VI died. The radio was switched on, and we, and the other diners, ate our meal in complete silence. The only sound apart from the occasional clinking of cutlery on plates, was the sound of continuous funeral music being played over the radio.
I’m not sure which year it was – it was a Friday in late October in either 1951 or 1952. We had been to the Oak Room Cafe as usual, with the Rev Fry, for one of Tommy Wilkinson’s lunches. As the Half term Holiday was due to start that afternoon, we were dismissed straight after lunch from outside the cinema. As it was my usual habit to wander about here and there – rather than going directly home, I decided that afternoon, to walk along Old Church Road towards the Steamroller shed to see if my friends (the roadmen) were there. As luck would have it, the shed was locked, and peering through the crack between the doors, I could see that the shed was empty. I knew that my two friends were out on the steamroller somewhere in Clevedon.
I decided to make my way up the narrow winding path behind the shed, through a thin copse on the side of Hangstone Quarry, through the bushes at the top, climb over the rustic fence and join the public footpath over the top of the quarry. I then intended to walk down to Victoria Road, along Strode Road and into Westbourne Avenue and home.
I set off up the path leading from behind the steamroller shed, and was soon approaching the bushes near the top – where the path got a bit narrow. I found my way blocked by a figure, lying face downwards away from me. The figure was wearing brown shoes, green trousers and brown tweedy jacket. As we were only about a week away from Bonfire Night, part of me concluded that this was some life-sized Guy Fawkes that had been abandoned or hidden for later use. Unable to get past, I decided that if I wanted to investigate my “Guy” further, then my approach would have to be from the public footpath that led over Hangstone Quarry.
I retraced my steps back down towards the steamroller shed – it was still closed up. There was nobody to be seen as I walked back along Old Church Road and up Hillside Road. I turned into St John’s Avenue and began walking up the winding public footpath until I reached the rustic wooden fencing – over and beyond which, was the narrow path through the bushes to where “Guy” was lying.
By now, I was beginning to have severe doubts as to whether it really was a Guy Fawkes after all – maybe it was someone who wasn’t very well. I’m not sure quite what I was feeling as I climbed over the rustic fence and entered the area of the bushes – but I can remember calling out “Hello” several times. Within a few steps, I came across the figure with the top of his bald head towards me – I couldn’t see his face as he was lying in a pool of blood.
Strangely, I didn’t feel scared by the macabre scene in front of me – I remember turning quietly and making my way back through the bushes to the wooden fence, beyond which was the public footpath. Climbing over, I began walking over the top of Hangstone Quarry. By the time I reached Victoria Road, I had made up my mind that maybe I should tell someone what I had seen – but there was absolutely no one around to tell. I crossed over by the drinking fountain at the bottom of Victoria Road, and began walking up Strode Road towards Westbourne Avenue.
On the corner of Westbourne Avenue and Strode Road, I saw three workmen repairing a stone wall. I had first met them a couple of days earlier, when they had let me spend a few minutes shovelling through their mortar – so the knew me. I stopped for a while to talk with them – though I wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject of what I had seen, but eventually said “Guess what I’ve found ?”
Various suggestions were made – all of them incorrect. Finally I told them what I’d seen and I remember one of them telling me to “Clear off you little bugger – telling us such stories !” I persisted and eventually one of the men said he would take me down to the Police Station where I could tell them what I had found. Taking me by the hand, we walked down Strode Road into Old Church Road, past my old house and past the cinema towards the Police Station.
Here the workman explained to the sergeant what I had told him. After listening, the sergeant told the workman to go back to work and then turned to me to ask for my version of what had taken place. I relayed my story very carefully, word for word – even telling him exactly what one of the workmen had said to me when I told them what I’d found.
The sergeant called a constable from the back room and quickly explained what was required. The constable put on his helmet and, taking me by the hand, we went through the front door. We crossed over Old Church Road and up Hillside Road and into St John’s Avenue. We made our way up the winding footpath till at last we reached the rustic wooden fence, over which was the narrow path leading through the bushes to “Guy.” The constable told me to stay by the fence, whilst he climbed over and disappeared into the bushes. There was a lot of rustling about and then, a minute or two later, he reappeared and told me to “run along home.”
I set off over Hangstone Quarry for the second time that afternoon and soon reached Victoria Road. I crossed into Strode Road and walked along it towards Westbourne Avenue. The three workmen whom I’d met earlier had packed up and gone home. I turned into Westbourne Avenue, reached number 48, and let myself in – rather than going next door to Mrs Belcher.
Mum and Dad usually arrived home soon after five o’clock. I can remember thinking over the events of the afternoon and wondering quite how I was going to tell them. For some inexplicable reason, I was now beginning to feel a sense of guilt about what had taken place, and by the time they arrived home, I had decided I wasn’t actually going to say anything at all about what had happened. However, not long after they arrived home, there was knock on the front door.
My Dad went to answer it – it was P.C. Poole. For a few minutes, there was the sound of hushed voices coming from the front hall and then the sound of P.C. Poole departing. Dad came in and asked me whether anything had happened on the way home from school – at first, fearing I was in trouble, I assured him that “nothing had happened.” Though with further questioning and encouragement from my Dad, I slowly recounted the afternoon’s happenings to my somewhat astonished parents.
My Dad was, I think, very fearful of the effect might have on me, and decided that the best solution was to have a fish and chip supper from Mr Webb’s shop, followed by a visit to the Maxime Cinema to see the war film “The Frogmen” starring Richard Widmark – it certainly did the trick !!
Going to the Maxime Cinema
The “Maxime” Cinema – more or less the same building that is now called the “Curzon” – is apparently one of the oldest continuously running cinemas in the country – it originally opened just after the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912.
When I lived in Westbourne Avenue, going to the “Maxime” on a Saturday morning, was the highlight of the week for most children aged between about six or seven upwards to about the age of fourteen. What seemed like hundreds of excited youngsters would assemble in a disorderly line along the front of the shops on the ground floor of the cinema building just before 10.00 am on Saturday mornings clutching their sixpence – waiting for the doors to open.
In those days, the foyer was twice as big as now, with the ticket office just to the left at the bottom of the stairs. You had to go up one flight of stairs and turn left through double doors to get to the stalls. The stalls were always filled up first, and it was a question of finding a seat with your friends anywhere you could – seats were all one price. At last the noisy rabble would be seated and the programme would be ready to start – the lights would dim and the show begin.
There was always a western – usually Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd) with his sidekick “Gabby Hayes,” or a Tom Mix film, or Roy Rodgers and his horse “Trigger.” The “baddies” always wore black stetsons and the good guys always wore white ones. If they weren’t fighting “baddies,” then they were fighting red Indians – we soon learnt that “the only good Injun was a dead Injun !”
Sometimes there were a few Disney cartoons – Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto and Goofy. There was always a comedy film – either Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or “OId Mother Riley (with Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane). Sometimes there was a “Batman” or “Zorro” film.
The shouts, cheers, screams and laughter from the audience were often deafening and sometimes objects would be thrown at the screen in support of the heroes in their fight against “the enemy.” Missile throwing usually brought the film to a shuddering halt – the house lights would go on and the Cinema Manager would come on the stage. He would bellow at the miscreants who were out of their seats, he would complain about the missile throwing and, amid raspberries and other indescribable noises, one or two well-known criminals would be threatened with ejection. Once order was re-established, he would then depart – to a mixture of loud cheers, boos and raspberries – the house lights would dim, and to increasing cheers from the young audience, the film reel would stagger to life and the morning’s entertainment continue.
If I remember correctly, the Saturday morning film show would finish at about twelve noon, and within minutes, excited youngsters would spill out of the exit doors on either side of the screen and onto the pavement and wend their way homewards. In our case, my group of friends and I would re-enact the adventures we’d just seen on the silver screen, all the way home. The blue gabardine mackintoshes – widely worn by youngsters in the the late forties and fifties – made admirable cloaks for Batman or Zorro or other caped crusaders swooping along the top of Hangstone Quarry.
For quite a number of years, Mum, Dad and I went out regularly to the Cinema on Friday evenings. I always wanted to go upstairs on the balcony or into one of the boxes at the side – Dad always said that the best place to sit was in the middle of the stalls – whether that was actually true, or whether it was the cost of the seats that appealed – I’m not sure. If my memory serves me well, centre stall seats were 1/6 each (about 7p in today’s money) and my ticket cost ninepence (about 4p).
In those days, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of different categories of films – most films shown at the “Maxime” seemed suitable for children. There were westerns, war films, crime, comedy and romantic films. The sort of films I can remember seeing included: “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (western), “Ivanhoe,” “The Mudlark,” “Oliver Twist,” “Destination Moon,” ” The Greatest Show on Earth,” “Bambi” and “Swiss Miss” (Laurel & Hardy). The film performance usually consisted of a “B” film followed by adverts and the Pathe News, followed by the major film. Performances were only from Monday to Saturday and began in the early afternoon, and were repeated until about ten o’clock at night. If you were so inclined, you could actually sit from about 1.30 pm through to the end of the evening without having to pay for a new ticket (over 8 hours). If you were there at the end of the evening’s performance, it was marked by the playing of the National Anthem – at which most people stood reverently until it was over – though there were always some, who would make a bolt for the door as soon as the music began.
As I have said, we used to go regularly to the cinema on Friday evenings. For various reasons, my Mum didn’t always come – it would then be just me and my Dad. I remember one particular Friday – Mum had been unwell and Dad didn’t want to leave her, but she insisted that he and I went as usual. We were about an hour into the performance and were both engrossed in watching an exciting western, when a crudely written message appeared superimposed on the screen. The message stated that we were “required at home immediately” – I can remember my disappointment on having to leave the film at that point, and never knowing how it turned out. Mum had apparently been taken ill at home on her own, and had been able to get help from Betty Palmer (next door). Her husband Bill, had run down to the phone box in Old Church Road (by the Salthouse Fields) and phoned Dr Hylton, and the “Maxime” Cinema.
Our weekly visits the the cinema “tailed off” with the acquisition of a television in late 1952 when the Wenvoe transmitter opened. We did however, go to the cinema from time to time, to see something different. I remember sitting with my parents – all of us wearing red and green lensed-glasses to watch 3D cinema in Bournmouth. I also remember seeing “Cinemascope” for the first time – in a film called “The Robe.”
Car to Pier Beach and Ladye Bay
My Parents had a number of cars over the years. When I was about two or three years of age, Dad had a box-like Austin 12 – which he kept at Mr Ford’s garage on the corner of Strode Road and Old Church Road. As far as I can remember, Dad didn’t have this car long – I think he got rid of it in about 1946 – about the time he transferred to Bristol Cars.
His next car purchase was in about 1950 – it was a two-door, four-seater 1936 Ford 8 with the registration number of AHR 205. Dad bought it from the garage on the Pier Beach, where there was a Wems Coaches Booking Office and where some of their coaches were stored and maintained. We spent a couple of weekends at the Garage, repainting the car inside and out, and Mum made some loose-fitting fawn coloured covers for the “leather” seats – which had seen better days. Dad kept the car in a “lock-up” garage at the back of Willcock’s Garage on the corner of Pizey Avenue and Old Church Road. As well as using it to go to school in Bristol, my parents used to go out for little trips (with me) on Sunday afternoons – usually around the lanes of Kenn, Yatton, Kingston Seymour and the Gordano Valley and along the Coast Road to Portishead. They then became even more adventurous and we were soon visiting Weston (via the Kewstoke Toll Road) and even travelling up in the Mendips – to Burrington and Charterhouse.
Me in the driving seat at Brockley Combe
Before car ownership, visits to the Marine Lake happened now and again during the summer, as did visits to Little Harp Bay and the Green Beach – but it was always a bit of a problem on these visits to cope with all the picnic stuff, travel rugs and me.
Now that we had a car – new possibilities opened up – the Pier Beach ! Having a car meant you could take almost everything with you – except the kitchen sink – and spend a whole day on the beach. We became fairly regular visitors to the Pier Beach during that summer, until someone suggested we might like Ladye Bay even better – so we tried it – and that was the start of a long and happy connection with Ladye Bay, that lasted until the beginning of the 1960’s.
Car ownership also opened up the prospect of holidays away from Clevedon – we once stayed with friends in a Tudor manor house – said to be “haunted” – at St Katherine’s (near Bath). One summer, we rented a bungalow near Burton Bradstock in Dorset, and every Whitsun, for about ten years, we rented caravans with uncles, aunts and cousins in Lyme Regis. We visited the Aunts in Southport, and visited friends in Bournemouth, Oxford, London and Tewkesbury.
Within a year or so, Dad got rid of the Ford 8 and bought a 1938 Hillman from Willcocks’
Dad and our 1938 Hillman – at the back of Willcocks Garage
Garage – that was soon followed by a 1954 Hillman Minx with four doors and faux leather seats. His first new car didn’t come until 1963 – an ivory coloured Triumph Herald 12/50
1951 – The Festival of Britain
After the austerity of the war, the Clement Atlee post-war Labour government planned the Festival of Britain as the “tonic to the Nation.” It was not without it’s critics, and many felt the £8 million would have been better spent on housing. For many people in Britain, the world outside the proposed Festival was a grim place – rationing was still in place, dockers were striking, the Korean War was in full swing, the Rosenbergs had been convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, and the testing of nuclear weapons continued apace in Nevada.
In the midst of this grimness however, the Festival of Britain introduced a sense of possibility in the world. It was designed to show what was best about British culture and design – it was to be Britain at its best in terms of both its history, its industrial development and, looking towards the future. It covered aspects of architecture, engineering, science, medicine, history and culture. A huge 27 acre bomb site had been found in London (almost opposite the Houses of Parliament) on the south bank of the River Thames. A range of exhibition buildings and structures were erected, including the Royal Festival Hall (which is all that still remains of the original site), the concrete and aluminium Dome of Discovery (a structure whose diameter of 365 feet and height of 93 feet made it the biggest dome in the world), and the precariously balanced pencil-thin Skylon. The year had also been carefully chosen, as it was the Centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 – the Festival of Britain opened in May 1951.
The 1951 Festival of Britain with the Dome of Discovery and Skylon
Mum and I travelled up on the train from Clevedon in late June – it was my first visit to London. To experience riding on the Tube, seeing the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, a boat trip on the Thames and then to visit the Festival site was a truly fantastic experience. The memories of riding on escalators in the Dome of Discovery, marvelling at life-size models of dinosaurs, inspecting jet engines and clambering onto huge railway engines, and standing beneath and looking up at the Skylon – have remained with me ever since. Just as fascinating for me, was the display of allied and captured enemy WW2 planes assembled on Horse Guards Parade – a great day out for any eight year old boy !
Amazingly, the Festival site was controversially flattened when Winston Churchill led the Conservatives back into power in October 1951 – it was as if the vision of the future was somehow out of step with the real world. It is said that almost 8 million people visited the Festival – I’m glad I was one of them.
I’ve only been bullied once in my life and that was for a few days when I was eight. It started one day towards the end of the week, as I was walking to school by one of my roundabout routes, through the Fernville Estate. His name was Richard – he was bigger than me and about twelve years of age and went to Highdale Secondary Modern School. It first started with him commenting on my St Nicholas uniform, and then it developed into name calling – on the second day, there was a bit of pushing and shoving. My Dad sensed I was unhappy about something that evening, and on the following day, I feigned illness to avoid going to school.
On the Saturday morning, whilst fiddling about in the shed with some wood, a saw and a hammer and nails, Dad came in and asked me if anything was wrong. At first I was rather reticent, but eventually told him about Richard and about all that had taken place over the previous two days. His solution was simple . . . . . . . . . .
My Dad found a small hessian sack, and getting a few old newspapers, we began screwing up the newspaper sheets into small balls and stuffing them into the sack. When it was full, he securely tied the bulging sack from the roof of the shed. Next he got a sheet of card on which he drew a “life-size” comical face – with a big nose. The face was then fixed to the sack at what I estimated to be the height of Richard’s face. I was then given a few hints on boxing and then left on my own, to punch hell out of “Richard” – especially around the area of the nose. I practised most of the rest of Saturday and quite a lot of Sunday too – I could hit “Richard” squarely on the nose – even with my eyes closed . . . . . .
As you can imagine, I could hardly wait to set off for school on the Monday morning, in the hope of meeting Richard and trying out Dad’s plan. As I approached the area where my foe lived, he suddenly appeared from a nearby gateway and started name-calling. I ignored him at first, and he moved in closer to begin jostling me. With Dad’s advice ringing in my ears, using all the strength I possessed, I gave Richard one huge punch on the nose. His nose literally exploded under the force of the blow – blood spurted out across his face and on my fist. The look of disbelief on his face must have been equalled by my own – he turned and fled home – I turned and ran in the opposite direction – away from any possible terrible retribution from his Mum.
That evening, Dad asked how things had gone and I explained what had happened – he was obviously pleased at the outcome and assured me that Richard wouldn’t bother me again. About an hour later, however, there was a knock at the door – and Dad went to answer it.
Peeping through the net curtains of our front bay window, I could see a lady talking earnestly to my Dad. Standing next to her was a boy with sticking plaster all round the middle of his face – it was Richard. From what was being said, it was obvious that his Mum was demanding to see the thug who had beaten up her son. Slowly, I eased my way out of the dining room and into the hall, and peeped out at her from behind my Dad.
When she saw me and compared my size to that of her son, she immediately turned on him – accusing him of wasting her time. As they walked away from our house, I remember the wonderful sight of Richard being clouted around the head and shoulders by his Mum. Dad was right – Richard never did trouble me again !
Ever since I was a little boy, I have always enjoyed the magic of Christmas. I have many happy memories of different Christmases – mostly whilst living at Westbourne Avenue. I think one of my earliest recollections was the Christmas after we moved in, when my Mum and Dad took me to see the pantomime at the Salthouse Pavilion (between Haskell’s “Westend Gift Shop” and the Salthouse Pub) – it was Cinderella. I can remember being invited onto the stage – with two other children – by the Ugly Sisters, to learn and sing and do all the actions to “I’m a little Teapot, Short and stout. Here’s my handle, Here’s my spout.” etc. It was obviously well received by the audience who laughed and cheered as we came off the stage.
In Six Ways in Clevedon, where the “One Stop” shop now is, there used to be a shop called “Babyland.” Each year, on Saturday afternoons from mid-December, “Babyland” used to have Father Christmas – his Grotto was in the basement, and a queue would form at the appointed time, in the adjacent alleyway behind the building, accessed from Alexandra Road. All the Mums and Dads would assemble with their excited offspring as they shuffled their way forwards to rear door of the “Babyland” basement and the entrance to Santa’s Magical Grotto. Sitting on Santa’s knee, he would ask you whether you’d been good all year – your answer would be relayed to Mum or Dad. Then you would tell him what you hoped Santa might be able to bring you on Christmas Eve. I always thought Santa was a little deaf, as he always repeated – more loudly – what you had told him you wanted. Having told your wishes to Santa, you were then allowed to dip into a very large box of wrapped gifts – pink for a girl and blue for a boy. Then you were directed pasts shelves of “goodies” and on upstairs to the ground floor where there were more delights to drool over.
Being so soon after the War, there was not too much choice in the range of toys available – in my letters to Santa (of which I still have several), I always asked for a tangerine, chocolate money and crayons – if I was feeling lucky, I might even ask for a box of dates too. One Christmas, I was delighted to get a “Lone Star” cap pistol – I was the envy of all my friends – it was far better than any toy gun that my friends had ever had.
A few days before visiting Santa’s Grotto, when my Mum used to pick me up from school, I used to find an excuse to divert her in the direction of “Babyland” to look at the displays of toys in their windows. One year, I remember wanting a metal racing track that I had seen in the “Babyland” window – it was a metal figure-of-eight two-lane track with blue and red wind-up metal cars. I knew it was asking a lot to expect Father Christmas to bring such a big present – but he did – though I could never figure out quite how he’d actually got it down our chimney !
One Christmas, two of the Aunties came down from Southport to stay with us in Clevedon. Being Catholic, they decided they wanted to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, at the Catholic Church – just at the top of Marine Parade. Mum, Dad and I went with the Aunts – it was my first time in a Catholic Church, and I remember ducking each time when the priest began swinging burning incense around in the thurible, on a long chain. In those days, the whole service was in Latin and, of course, I couldn’t understand a single word – I thought it very mysterious that the Aunties seemed to know this strange language, and knew exactly what was going on. The service finished just after midnight and I can remember trying to hurry the four of them home as quickly as possible – I was terrified that Father Christmas would arrive in my bedroom, find my bed empty and leave without filling my stocking. I’m pleased to say that he hadn’t, for my stocking was full when I awoke the next morning.
One particular Christmas Eve that I remember, I was particularly excited. I had, as usual, written my letter to Santa and pinned it to my stocking on the bottom of my bed. Once in bed, no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t get to sleep. The more I lay there unable to sleep, the more worried I got, knowing that Father Christmas wouldn’t come if I was still awake.
Eventually, I must have “drifted off” and then awoken again – this time feeling a heavy weight on my feet – maybe Santa had come ! I sat up in bed – it was dark and the room was filled with moonlight. Not wishing to disturb my parents, and having no bedside light, I proceeded to feel what was at the bottom of my bed. Whatever it was, was large and heavy. By the light of the moon, I realised it was a long large dressing gown – and as it was cold, I put it on. I began searching through my stocking – there was a tangerine (which I ate), a bag of chocolate money (which I ate), a box of dates (which I ate), a torch – which I flashed all over the bedroom and then realised I could use it to illuminate the decorating of my new crayoning book with my new packet of crayons. At the bottom of the stocking was a Christmas cracker – which I pulled. So there I was, sitting up in bed, wearing my new dressing-gown with my torch switched “on” (propped on my pillow to shine on my colouring), with a paper hat on my head and blowing the whistle I’d found in the cracker. I was making so much noise and so engrossed in my colouring, that I wasn’t aware that my bedroom door had opened and there stood my Dad. As you can imagine, he wasn’t too happy about having his sleep disturbed. I had to put everything back in the stocking, take off my dressing-gown and put it at the bottom of the bed, settle down and go back to sleep. I had rather a fitful sleep – expecting it to have all been a dreadful dream and that maybe Father Christmas had never called at all – I was woken by Dad the next morning to find it wasn’t a dream after all.
Apart from the year that the Aunts came to stay at Christmas, the three of us always had Christmas Day at home. Christmas Dinner was always roast chicken with all the trimmings, followed by home-made Christmas Pudding – it was always a mystery to me that I always seemed to find the silver three-penny piece in my portion of pudding . Afterwards was spent in front of the fire, roasting as few chestnuts and listening to the radio or, from the time we had acquired a television, watching the entertainment on that.
Car ownership in about 1950, brought about a change in our Christmas celebrations. After we had had our Dinner at home, and everything was cleared up, we used to go off to Uncle Stuart and Aunt Edna’s house in Hallam Road for tea, and to spend the evening with them. I used to enjoy these evenings for it was an opportunity to see my older cousins – Stuart and Pat.
Comics, Papers, Books and Hairdressing
I can never remember learning to read – it just seems to have been something I could always do. Right from an early age, I used to look at newspapers, magazines, comics and books, and ask my parents what particular words were, and then I would remember them afterwards.
Dad used to buy the “Daily Mail” – then a broadsheet – from a shop called “Little’s” (in the Triangle) on his way to work in the morning. In the evenings, after Dad had finished looking at it, I would try to read what it said. I also liked to look at the cartoon strips – “Rip Kirby” (who was a Special Agent) and “Flook” (a rather strange woolly-like creature whose friend was a boy called Rufus).
I can remember sitting at the table in 76 Old Church Road and writing the football results down on Saturday evenings from the radio – in the vain hope that Dad might win the pools. Dad also used to buy either the “Evening Post” or the “Evening World” on his way home from work. On Sunday we had two papers delivered – both are now extinct – the “Sunday Pictorial” and “Reynolds News.”
When Dad was not cutting my hair in the garden (if fine) or in the shed (if wet), he and I used to go to “Coopers” in Coleridge Vale Road North (opposite what is now the Christadelphian Church Hall). Apart from the wonderful smells of the sprays, gels and Brylcreem, there was always a lot of chatter about the successes or failures of various football teams and also much talk about the successes or otherwise of British boxers of the time – such as Don Cockell, Freddie Mills and Tommy Farr. What I enjoyed most at Cooper’s however, were the comics. Mr Cooper had vast collections of “The Beano” and “The Dandy” – he also had “The Victor” – but best of all, he had a regular supply of American Marvel Comics with “Spiderman,” All-Star Comic hero “Superman” and DC Comic hero “Batman.” It was always a great relief to go into Cooper’s and find a long queue, for it meant I could expect to have about half an hour or so, reading his comics.
Seeing how much enjoyment I was getting from Mr Cooper’s comics, Dad used to buy me the occasional “Dandy” or “Beano” – so I could read further about the adventures of Corky the Cat, Lord Snooty, Biffo the Bear, Dennis the Menace and Desperate Dan. When I was about nine, I had my own pocket money of sixpence per week – I could now afford to by the “Eagle” – it cost me fourpence ha’penny each week and the rest I could spend on sweets.
The “Eagle” was a marvellous comic with science, stories, comic strips and cut-away drawings of cars, planes, ships, tanks, motor bikes etc. My favourite characters in the “Eagle” were Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future, set in the 21st Century), PC49 (adventures of a Metropolitan Police Constable), Jeff Arnold and Riders of the Range, Sergeant Luck of the Foreign Legion, and Jack O’Lantern (about smugglers and highwaymen).
From an early age, I had access to books – though most of them were not children’s books. The earliest children’s book (which I still have), is called “Some Nursery Rhymes” containing three illustrated stories of “Old Dame Trott,” “Sing a Song of Sixpence” and “Jack and Jill.” When I was little older, I was very fond of “Toby Twirl” and the “Rupert Bear” books that I had as presents at Christmas. When I became a fan of the “Eagle,” then the Eagle Annual was always a good present at Christmas.
My bedroom had a small bookcase with lots of Dad’s books on – from quite an early age, I used to try and read books like “Treasure Island,” “Captain Hornblower R.N.,” “Robinson Crusoe” and the “Thirty-nine Steps.” I’ve read and enjoyed them all many times since.
The Piano and Television
We often used to travel on the P & A Campbell Steamers from Clevedon Pier – they were quite cheap, often crowded, and ran more frequently than the steamers nowadays. They were big paddle steamers, painted black and pale pink with lots of varnished woodwork and one or two white funnels – they had names such as the “Bristol Queen,” the “Cardiff Queen” and “Glen Usk.” Sometimes we used to sail to the Old Pier at Weston and stay for the afternoon on Weston sands – an opportunity to ride donkeys and eat ice-cream or candy-floss. Once we went to Penarth and then onto Barry, where there was a huge permanent funfair which included a high helter-skelter.
It was on the boat trip back from Barry that Mum and Dad were approached by a lady who asked if I was their son. When they said that I was, and asked the lady why she wanted to know – she apparently said that she was a music teacher in Bristol and that I had “pianist’s hands.”
In the bow of the “Bristol Queen”
The conversation developed in such a way, that by the time we arrived back at Clevedon Pier, my parents probably thought that they had a budding piano-playing prodigy on their hands. The outcome was that the following Saturday, Mum, Dad and I went off to Bristol to “Mickleburgh’s” shop in Stoke’s Croft, to look into the possibility of buying a piano.
In those days, the rear of “Mickleburgh’s” shop was a vast museum of different kinds of musical artefacts – there were harpsichords, pipe-organs, fairground organs, hurdy-gurdys, pianolas etc. Mr Mickleburgh (Snr) took great delight in showing and demonstrating his many instruments for us. My parents eventually chose a small modern mahogany-cased piano – which was delivered to Westbourne Avenue the following week. Before its arrival, a piano teacher was engaged – at a fee of three shillings and sixpence an hour – by the name of Victoria Greenhalgh.
She was a matronly spinster in her early sixties with white hair. She was very much into “the Theory and Practice of Pianoforte Playing.” She made me practice scales for most of each lesson with a pencil rubber balanced on the back of both my hands – apparently it was imperative that the backs of the hands were level when playing !
Over the years I was with Miss Greenhalgh, I learned all about brieves, semi-brieves, minims, crotchets, quavers and semi-quavers. I learned all about four-four time and three-four time and took and passed several theory and practical exams – I even played solo before an audience in the Central Hall, in Old Market, Bristol – but I never learnt to sight-read music. For years I struggled through Beethoven, Chopin and other worthy composers, but eventually, Miss Greenhalgh and I parted company – partly because she didn’t want to teach me popular music numbers and partly because I didn’t practice enough. One of the reasons I didn’t practice was because of the sound of the television coming from the next room.
I first saw television in about 1950. One of my best friends at St Nicholas School was Rodney Denmead – his Mum and Dad had a television. Mr Denmead owned a bicycle shop which was next door to a radio/television & electrical shop in The Triangle. On the odd occasion I used to go to Rodney’s for tea, we used to watch the flickering image (looking as if it was through a snowstorm) – transmitted all the way from Sutton Coldfield – on their television.
By late July 1952, my parents decided that they would like to purchase a television, and as the Wenvoe transmitter (near Penarth) was about to open – that settled the matter. Dad went to see Mr Light at “Clevedon Engineering” (opposite W.H. Smith and next to the Land Yeo). Mr Light, I remember, had a huge street-map of Clevedon on the wall of his shop showing all the houses in the town – each house on the map, that had a television supplied by “Clevedon Engineering,” had a coloured flag (mounted on a pin) stuck in it. Ours, I remember, was the third flag on Mr Light’s map. You could only get black and white television then, and there was only one BBC Channel – our television was a 12 inch Bush that cost Dad, 69 Guineas. To begin with, reception was poor, but as soon as Wenvoe opened in August, the picture quality was much improved.
Television programmes were very limited at first – apart from “Watch With Mother” in the early afternoon, programmes tended to start round about 5 o’clock for children. There were long periods of the day when nothing at all was broadcast – just the “test card” was shown – this was apparently to enable television dealers, when installing new sets, to adjust the horizontal/vertical holds and the contrast/brightness controls correctly.
The first continuity announcers that I remember were MacDonald Hobley, Peter Haigh, Mary Malcolm and Sylvia Peters. Among my early favourite children’s shows was a string puppet show called “Muffin the Mule” with Annette Mills. Programmes for grown-ups included “The Brains Trust,” in which a panel of “experts” answered questions sent in by viewers – or “What’s My Line” which was a quiz game, chaired by Eamonn Andrews in which a panel of celebrities had to guess the occupation of contestants from a mime and asking questions – where the answer could only be “Yes” or “No.” If a contestant was able to answer their questions with “No” ten times – then they were a winner. The first soaps I recall were “The Grove Family” and “The Appleyards.”
As television was “live,” there were often intervals in transmission. The BBC would put on “The Interlude” – usually some idyllic country scene like a breeze blowing across a cornfield, or horses pulling a plough up and down a field, or a potter at work, or “Angel Fish” swimming idly round in an aquarium. In the early 1950’s, the television day ended with “The Epilogue” – then the National Anthem would be played and then everything would close down – usually by about half past ten.
Even though many of the programmes were rather “tame” in comparison with today’s television schedules – they seemed infinitely better than the prospect of a half hour’s piano practice on weekday evenings and an hour a day at weekends !
I did take up the piano again when I was about thirteen years of age – my piano teacher then was a cheery woman by the name of Molly Costello, who lived with her parents in Oldville Avenue. I went to her for over two years until the need to work hard for school exams became more pressing. She and I got on pretty well and Molly was happy for me to play Buddy Holly, Russ Conway and Winifred Atwell numbers. Despite much encouragement from her, when we finally parted, I still hadn’t managed to learn to sight-read music – but I could pick up a tune quickly and “play by ear” reasonably well.
Teeth and the Highwayman
From an early age, I always had rather soft teeth – my Mum said it was due to poor diet during the War. She had always cleaned my teeth twice a day from the time I was quite a little boy. I believe my first filling came at aged three – and I know that I was one of the first patients of John Nicholas – just after he had come out of the Navy. He and his wife (Eileen), set up a surgery, a few houses up from us, in Old Church Road. Later they moved to Linden Road – and I remained a patient of his until his retirement several years after I married.
After my milk teeth started dropping out, my jaw was rather too small for the number of new teeth that wanted to grow in their place. To stop them twisting, some of them had to be pulled out, and in an effort to straighten my remaining teeth – frequent appointments were made for me to visit an ortho-dentist in Clifton.
From about eight years of age, I was fitted with a brace – initially on a plate, but finally, I had a more permanent brace – all wired-up properly. I had that until I was about the age of twelve.
I have said previously that I was quite good (for my age) at drawing and painting. In late June 1952, whilst looking through a copy of the “Bristol Evening World,” I saw a painting competition advertised on the “Wolligog Club” children’s page. I remember getting out my Dad’s box of watercolours and setting about doing a painting of a Highwayman – and when complete, I posted it off to the paper. I was somewhat amazed when a few days later, a letter arrived from “Aunt Margaret of the Wolligog Club” – lo and behold, I had won first prize of a £1.
I and the other prize-winners were invited to attend the “Evening World” offices in The Centre, in Bristol. We were to have our photograph taken and a brief write-up had been prepared for publication. Unfortunately however, I already had an appointment to visit the ortho-dentist at the precise time I was supposed to be at the newspaper offices for the photo-call.
At the “Bristol Evening World” on 12th July 1952
Arrangement were then made for me to visit the “Bristol Evening World” later the same day. Mum and I were given a personal tour of the newspaper printing works, after which I was given some orange squash and biscuits. I received my prize and had my photograph taken for publication.
Moving School Again
Just slightly after midway through the Spring Term of 1953, Dad came to the conclusion that I wasn’t learning much at St Nicholas School, and that being there, was all rather a waste of eight guineas a term.
I remember him coming up to school to see the Rev. Fry at the end of one afternoon – just as everyone was leaving the premises. I had no inkling that this was going to happen and my first thought – when I saw him coming to school – was that I was in trouble. He and the Rev. Fry had quite a heated discussion – resulting in Dad informing him that I would be leaving at the end of the term and not coming back – this was apparently contrary to the terms and conditions for attending St Nicholas School – parents normally had to give a whole term’s notice or pay the next term’s fees – my Dad told the Rev Fry that he wasn’t going to comply with either of these conditions !
Arrangements were then made for me to transfer to St Andrew’s Junior School (next door to Clevedon Fire Station) – I began there straight after the Easter holiday. Although I was only at St Andrews for four terms – I have to say that these were probably the happiest four terms of my whole school career.
St Andrews was a six class school with Miss Freda Page as a teaching Head. The other teachers were Miss Baker, Miss Dean, Mrs Morgan, Mr James and Mr Saxby. The school was designed with three classes down one side and three classes down the other side of the Headteacher’s house – all in the shape of a letter “U.” Miss Page had a private garden at the back of her house, and beyond that was a raised playground – usually played in by the girls. There were also two toilet/washroom areas at the back, and a large playground at the front of the school – where there was space for games of football, and the “Jungle Jim.”
I was put in Mr Saxby’s class – I liked him – he was amusing and he also praised you if you worked hard. It was a lot different from that which I had experienced at St Nicholas – for a start, there was no uniform to wear. My new class had nearly thirty children – compared with about twelve to fifteen at St Nicholas. We wrote in pencil rather than pen – and didn’t learn French. We listened to and participated in BBC School Broadcasts through a big speaker in the classrooms with such programmes as “Service for Schools,” “Singing Together,” and “How Things Began.”
I had the opportunity of learning all kinds of crafts with Mr Saxby – such as lino cutting and printing, painting with powder paints, simple bookbinding – which was making three, five and seven-stitch booklets with wax-resist patterned covers. We did basketry, sewing, and printing with potatoes and string blocks – it was all fascinating. I became Mr Saxby’s “Art Monitor” – if we were painting I would spread out newspaper covering on the desks, half-fill jam jars with water, put out trays of powder paint and brushes. Mr Saxby was also, I think, good at maths – for I certainly improved radically within a short time of being in his class.
The only thing I didn’t like at St Andrews in that first summer term, was walking from school on Wednesday afternoons to the Salthouse Fields for the weekly swimming lessons at the Marine Lake. The Marine Lake in the early 1950’s was a much different place from the way it is now. It had a springboard, a two-stage white metal framed diving board and, what was called “the raft” – which was a wooden platform about thirty yards out.
At the edge of the lake, near the diving boards, was a circular kiosk on stilts with a shower underneath – which was absolutely freezing. The changing/swimming club rooms were in a large slatted wooden building built out into the water on concrete piers. After changing, we used to stand in freezing waist-deep water for twenty minutes or so – shivering and splashing about. I don’t think any of us actually managed to swim – I know I didn’t.
Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on Tuesday 2nd June 1953. At school, in the weeks leading up to the event, we had been making bunting to hang on the front playground wire netting, which overlooked Old Street. We also made huge cardboard, painted and varnished shields to hang on the netting too. As Mr Saxby’s “right-hand man,” I was much involved in the making and painting of these shields and it was a proud moment when they were put up in time for the great day.
On the Westbourne estate, preparations were made by the Mums and Dads to have a “Coronation Fancy Dress Parade” for the children, followed by the “Coronation Tea Party” – also for all the children. If the weather held good, it was planned to have an evening entertainment performed by the parents for anyone who wanted to watch.
The morning started out cloudy and a bit drizzly. Being the owners of a television, Mum and Dad invited a number of friends and neighbours round to see the Coronation Ceremony and Parade. Before long, John and Norah Stone were there – and so were the Palmer’s and the Belcher’s – and also, a lot of other people who I didn’t know – and I’m not sure my parents did either ! We must have had about twenty people crowded into our lounge, peering at the 12 inch black and white screen, for just under two hours.
By early afternoon, the weather had improved dramatically, and the final task of getting the tables, chairs and benches in place was soon under way. Table cloths were spread, cutlery placed, plates piled high with cakes and sandwiches, and jugs of squash were filled.
The Fancy Dress Parade took place for the little ones, there were games for us older children, and at last, the time came for the Coronation Tea.
Me, Bobby King, Nicky Palmer and the Page sisters
It was a splendid affair – we were all given paper Coronation hats to wear with red, white and blue horizontal stripes. When we were all “stuffed” with food and squash, all the children were presented with Coronation Mugs.
All the children were then sent home with some of their parents whilst the rest of the adults cleared up and took things home to wash-up. Some of the men had borrowed a farm cart from somewhere just beyond the end of Westbourne Avenue, to use as a stage for the entertainment in the evening. Barrels of beer and cider were set up and there was much singing, laughter, cheering and dancing till late in the evening. As I was only nine years old, I wasn’t allowed to stay up too late and had to go home to bed. As the entertainment was taking place on the large grassy area right in front of number 42 to 48 Westbourne Avenue, once my parents had gone back outside to watch, I was up again and looking from the open front bedroom window, at all that took place – right up until the end.
“Jungle Jim” and Broken Bones
I have previously mentioned the “Jungle Jim” in the front playground at St Andrews School. This was actually a construction of steelwork (about the thickness of scaffolding poles), consisting of two low arches, linked by a higher part from which hung a rope-ladder and also a rope for climbing or swinging on. The ladder and rope were put on the “Jungle Jim” by boys from Miss Page’s class just before morning break. It was removed by them at the end of afternoon play. Each class – except the youngest – had a day on the “Jungle Jim.”
There were certain conditions that had to be adhered to with regards this equipment – it had to be dry weather, you had to wear daps or sandals, and there had to be a teacher on duty in the playground near the equipment. If any of those conditions were not in place, then the “Jungle Jim” could not be used.
On this particular Thursday afternoon – our class day was Thursday – I was standing on on a horizontal bar on the “Jungle Jim,” about 5 feet off the ground, when the whistle blew for the end of playtime. I was wearing my sandals and holding onto a vertical bar with one hand. The teacher on duty (Mrs Morgan), told me to get down, and as I bent down to move my feet to a lower position, my sandals slipped and I spun round the horizontal bar – and letting go of the vertical bar – fell off onto my right side, with my right arm tucked under me.
I remember getting up and feeling excruciating pain in my right elbow. Mr Saxby and Miss Page arrived on the scene, and I was walked the hundred yards or so to the Cottage Hospital by Mr Saxby and my friend, John Price. Once at the hospital, and in the care of the Staff there, Mr Saxby returned to school – leaving John with me.
My right arm was x-rayed and it was decided that I would need to go to Bristol for treatment. John Price was sent beck to school whist attempts were made to contact my parents at their respective schools in Bristol.
I was put aboard an ambulance and ferried to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, where I was admitted to the “Mary Monica” Ward. My Mum and Dad arrived soon after I was taken up to the Ward. Having had my shirt cut off me, I was undressed by Mum and a gown put on. I was then placed on a trolley and wheeled, for what seemed ages down corridors and then a tunnel under Marlborough Street, and along more corridors to the x-ray department.
The x-ray revealed that I had a smashed right elbow joint – the end of the radius, ulna and humerus were in several pieces, and apparently would be difficult to set. I was given painkillers and returned the the Ward for an operation scheduled the next morning. The following day, I was taken down early and soon under the anaesthetic. I returned to the Ward and had regained consciousness by the time Mum and Dad arrived in the late afternoon.
Life on the Ward was a strange experience – the “Mary Monica” Ward was actually a Men’s Ward. Part of it however, overlooking the yard where the ambulances came in, was for children. There were just six of us ranging in age from a five year old boy (in the bed next to mine), who cried all the time – to a girl in her early teens.
Mid- morning on the day after my operation, a nurse arrived at my bedside to ask if “I had opened my bowels that day ?” I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about – and not wishing to appear ignorant – I told her “No.” The next day she came round again and asked the same question – I answered in the same way. I could see as the days passed, that each time I answered “No,” she seemed to be getting more and more worried. On about the fifth day, I thought I would please her by giving her a different answer. When she arrived and asked her question, I said “Yes” – she was obviously pleased at that ! Unfortunately, I hadn’t reckoned on the next question when she asked “How many times” I remember thinking for a short while at what my answer should be – and still wishing to keep her happy – I answered “Thirteen !!”
A few days after my operation, my right arm was x-rayed again to see if it was knitting together – unfortunately it was not. In fact, so I understand, the bones had not been put back correctly and if left untreated, I would have little or no movement in the elbow at all. It was decided that another operation was needed to re-set the bones. This time it was successful and it works perfectly alright – though the arm is mis-shapen and slightly shorter than my left.
My two week stay in hospital, including a visit from Miss Page, took me within a day or two of the end of the summer term, and so I did not return to Mr Saxby’s class.
The prospect of enjoying the summer holidays with a bent-arm plaster cast was a bit limiting – playing cricket, riding bikes, climbing trees etc. were all impossible – as was swimming in the sea at Ladye Bay.
Ladye Bay, August 1953
The plaster was finally removed in the last few days of August, and though my arm was thin, pale, wizened and weak – it seemed alright. I was to embark on about ten weeks of a half hour’s physiotherapy, twice a week, at the Cottage Hospital, during the Autumn Term.
Miss Page was a very nice lady – she was unmarried and had a couple of dachshunds, and lived in the school-house between the two wings of three classrooms at the school. Her garden was wonderful – full of flowers and insects, with a shady area under an old apple tree – where groups of us older children went to read on sunny afternoons.
She taught all subjects, but she was particularly enthusiastic about history – especially “The Romans” and “Life in Roman Britain.” It was through her influence and her friendship with Mr Sykes (whose wife worked at St Andrews School serving school dinners), that my Dad and I joined the Clevedon Archaeological Society. Mr Sykes, who owned the tobacconist shop in Station Road (next to W.H. Smith), was the Chairman of the Archaeological Society, and Dad and I went on quite a few “digs” with him. One of the sites we visited was the Roman Villa at Birdcombe Court, Wraxall, where I found a piece of Roman floor tile with part of a human footprint quite clearly showing on it – it’s amazing to think that someone must have accidentally trodden on the wet clay tile nearly 1800 years ago. My piece of clay tile was on display in Clevedon Museum for many years.
Through Miss Page’s efforts, and with consolidation at home from my Dad, I became very good at knowing my times tables, tables of weights and measures, adding and subtracting, long multiplication and long division. I thrived on being able to do sums like “reduce £14-13-6d to farthings.” We didn’t have many textbooks then – most of the teacher’s work was written on the blackboard and easel – I could whip through a board- full of sums within minutes.
Miss Page was not as able as Mr Saxby, with art and craft subjects – though we did make papier-mache headed glove puppets of the different characters in Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” and the class performed it for the rest of the older junior children as part of our Christmas festivities. The other highlight of our craft lessons in the first half-term was to make bamboo pipes (recorders). They were about 15 inches long – we cut the mouthpiece and the window, fitted the cork in the mouthpiece and drilled holes of various sizes down bamboo tube to make the notes. Having spent several weeks making our pipes, we painted them with enamel paint to our own design – mine I remember, was black and red. Miss Page taught us how to play them, and we used to play all kinds of tunes both in the classroom and for school Assembly. I think I was fairly good at playing – probably because of my piano tuition. Indeed, we were asked to play at
The former St Peter’s Church – as it was in the 1950’s
an important Service attended by Clevedon dignitaries at St Peter’s Church – then a tin Church (on the corner of Alexandra Road and Copse Road). We played one piece as a whole group, and then three of us (of which I was one) played a second piece.
New Year and the End in Sight
The Spring Term of 1954 was not one I was looking forward to – for it meant the dreaded Eleven Plus Exam. I believe now, that when I first went to St Andrews, Miss Page put me in the wrong class – for I was much younger than everyone else. The realisation of this fact came to me when I returned to school after the Christmas holiday – everyone in the class was to take the Eleven Plus on the 2nd of February – but I was only ten years and three months old. If I passed the exam, then I would still only be ten years old when I started Grammar School. I don’t think my Dad was too worried about whether I was the right age or not – I think he felt that Miss Page should know what she was doing.
The 2nd February arrived – the day of the exam – and I was ill. Whether I had decided to be ill to avoid doing the exam or not – I don’t know. I had the opportunity for a retake on the 2nd March, and just after Easter, the results came through. I had passed – subject to a successful interview. I was called for interview at Weston Grammar School for Boys – I can remember telling the interviewing panel that I wanted to be an archaeologist – I was very interested in the subject and I told them that the archaeologist, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, was my hero. They asked me a lot of questions about archaeology – I think my answers surprised and pleased them for I heard a day or two later that I had passed. My Parents were delighted and some of the summer term was spent in “kitting me out” for the Boys’ Grammar School, Weston-super-Mare. In a way, I was proud to have this recognition for my efforts but saddened that most of my friends would be going to Clevedon Secondary Modern School – or “Highdale,” as it was then known.
The rest of the summer term passed quickly. Looking back, it seemed to be sunny every day, and days seemed to be made up of a succession of school trips out on nature walks to the fir woods, a picnic on “The Warren” above Clevedon Court, pond dipping and rock pool investigations on the beach. We played sport on Clevedon Town Football Ground in Teignmouth Road, and did a lot of P.E. in the front playground of the school. I was quite sad to eventually finish there on the last day of term – I knew my life was never going to be the same.
Car ownership and Notable People
My Dad was an easy-going sort of chap who had always enjoyed the company of people from all walks of life – he was easy to chat to and a had a good sense of humour. One aspect of owning a car was, that as a family, we now had more time to do all kinds of additional things that would otherwise have been difficult to do – visiting more places around Clevedon and the surrounding district, participating in local activities and, as mentioned earlier, going on longer trips to places like Lyme Regis, Oxford, Bournemouth, Southport and even London.
In Dad’s case, because of his experience as Head of Art at Carlton Park School, he felt he now had the opportunity of further developing his own artistic skills and so he joined the Clevedon Art Club. Here, he came into contact with many talented local amateur artists. In particular, though I’m not sure how, he developed a friendship with Doris Hatt – a friendship that was to last for a number of years.
Doris lived with her partner, Margery “Mack” Smith, in a white coloured art-deco house called “Littlemead” in Swiss Valley, on the corner of Valley Road and the road that now leads to Clevedon Comprehensive School. Dad and I visited Doris and Margery on numerous occasions over a number of years – sometimes on Saturday mornings and occasionally on Saturday afternoons when Doris and Margery would make a pot of tea and I would have orange squash – they always seemed to have a plate of delicious flapjack for us (me) to eat.
Doris Hatt’s former house “Littlemead”
We usually sat in their large lounge with the curved window. Doris, would sometimes show Dad her latest painting, or talk about times past – particularly of her time in Paris in the 1920’s with the likes of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. I wasn’t so interested in her paintings then, but I was always intrigued with Margery’s loom – which was kept in an adjacent room – she always took great pains to explain and demonstrate how it worked and from time to time, allowed me to help thread the heddle. Dad had always painted pictures from when I was a small boy – usually of harbour scenes and street scenes. Occasionally he would take in a painting of his to show Doris, and she would give him advice on his work – certainly, she became quite an influence on his style for a year or two.
Doris at home
Over the period of their friendship, Doris gave my Dad two paintings of hers – one was a signed oil painting (about 18 inches x 24 inches) of a harbour scene – possibly in the South of France – with two or three boats, a male and female figure and buildings behind – one with a coloured awning. The second picture was a pen, pencil and water-colour (about 15 inches x 9 inches) of a jug, a cabbage and a few small vegetables – this was a more natural style than the harbour scene painting – one would describe that one as having a modernistic style. Doris’ two paintings hung in my parent’s house for more than forty years – though I believe my Mum sold them in the late 1990’s.
* * * * *
Another notable Clevedonian, who was a friend of ours for several years – at least until we moved from the Westbourne Estate – was Michael John “Jack” Willcocks. Quite a few of the local children from the Westbourne Estate (including me) knew his wife, Helen. She was, I believe, Chair of the Somerset Branch of the RSPCA, and had a great many cats at home – she also looked after several injured birds at various times too. We used to visit Mrs Willcocks to play with the cats and help feed the birds for her – and, of course, to have a free drink and some biscuits.
“Jack” and Helen, lived behind the family-run Willcocks’ Garage – their house called, I believe, “Sea Mist,” was only a few yards from where Dad rented his lock-up garage – and that’s how Dad and I met up with “Jack” one day, when Dad was tinkering with his car. Willcocks’ Garage was on the corner of Old Church Road and Pizey Avenue, and at the rear of the garage, “Jack” had established his engineering company early in the 1920’s. “Jack” was an amazing man – he was an inventor, a skilled precision engineer who thrived on challenges, and a boat racing enthusiast. He was apparently the first person to ever drive a car to the top of Crook Peak – but his real claim to fame was concerned with the fact that he was Sir Henry Seagrave’s mechanic on board “Miss England II” – when Seagrave (as driver), with Victor Halliwell (boat’s engineer), and “Jack,” sitting on either side of him, were attempting to break the world water speed record on Friday 13th June 1930 at Lake Windermere.
Miss England II soon after launch, prior to attempting the World Water Speed Record
On the first two runs of a measured kilometre, “Miss England II” averaged 98.82 mph – a new record. On the third run, she is thought to have hit a floating branch, capsizing the boat on top of Halliwell – and killing him. “Jack” was thrown from the boat and sustained a broken back – which troubled him for the rest of his life. Henry Seagrave was rescued unconscious as the boat sank – he regained consciousness for a few moments and asked after his crew. Shortly after Seagrave had been told he’d broken the world record, he died from his injuries. The boat was salvaged and in the following year, was driven by Kaye Don in Northern Ireland, and reached an unofficial speed of 107 mph.
Jack’s involvement with high-speed boats didn’t end with “Miss England II”, for I remember (in about 1950), on the occasion when the Circus had come to Clevedon. Bad weather had destroyed the tentage where the elephants were housed, and the animals were brought over from the Salthouse Fields to Willcocks Garage, to be housed for the week. The garage was a large high building and within it was the smaller flat-roofed car showroom with large windows facing to Old Church Road. When Dad and I were looking at the elephants – housed in the main garage building – and talking to “Jack,” I noticed several wooden-hulled powerboats on top of the car showroom roof and asked him about them. He said that they were all still usable, but he didn’t want to risk using them off Clevedon as there was likely to be too much seaweed floating about in the Channel. What eventually happened to them is unknown to me.
Willcocks Engineering (Clevedon) Ltd had a high reputation as a precision engineering company that could probably solve or make anything you cared to think of. I can remember going round the Company machine shop with Dad in late 1953 or early 1954. “Jack” had wanted to show us a new instrument that they’d recently made for one of the doctors at Ham Green Hospital – it was a strange looking instrument housed inside a glass case, with tubes and bottles and a bag that inflated and deflated. It was called “The Clevedon Ventilator,” and it was designed to help people suffering from the terrible disease of poliomyelitis.
The Clevedon Ventilator designed by Dr McCrea and built by Willcocks Engineering (Clevedon) Ltd, 1953
Poliomyelitis had been around for years – it could attack almost overnight and spread easily – causing paralysis of limbs and paralysis of chest muscles, causing death. There were only a few cases in Britain during the War, but there was a huge increase in the number of cases in Britain following the warm summer and autumn of 1947. Bristol was particularly badly hit and in 1950 there were over 250 cases with several deaths and many patients suffering total or partial paralysis. A massive epidemic in Copenhagen in 1953, with over 3,000 cases in that city alone – identified between August and December – led to an upsurge in the development and production of artificial respiratory machines across the world. The Clevedon Ventilator was one of many such designs.
I also remember “Jack” showing us a polishing machine he’d developed to polish stainless steel to a mirror finish. Apparently there had been a problem with the jet engines used in, I believe, the Comet airliner. Engineers felt they needed to see inside the engine whilst it was running, to identify exactly what the problem was. They thought that a stainless steel mirror system might be the answer, but were unsuccessful at polishing the steel to a satisfactory finish. “Jack” was approached to see if he could devise a polishing machine which solved the problem – he did – and even gave me a bit of one of the trial partly-polished pieces (about 2″ x 1″) as a souvenir.
Michael John “Jack” Willcocks
When I was about twelve, “Jack” let me have exclusive use a small laboratory in his factory – I even had my own key to let myself in at any time. He had set it up originally for his son Christopher, and it came complete with bunsen burner, test-tubes, tripod, gauze, petri dishes, glass vessels and flasks of every size and shape, distillation apparatus, pipettes, filter funnels and bottles and bottles of chemicals – including a very large jar of mercury. I made fairly frequent use of this facility for about two years – copying experiments I’d done at school – until we moved from Westbourne Avenue.
As far as I remember, the last period of contact that Dad and I had with “Jack,” was spending two or three days during the February half-term holiday of 1958 – driving him about – on Clevedon and Nailsea Moors. “Jack” was convinced that there was a hot, or warm spring, somewhere in the area. We spent a great deal of time lowering
“Jack” Willcocks, Dad and me searching for a thermal spring
thermometers into the ditches, rhynes, streams and rivers in the area – recording the water temperatures and recording on an O.S. map, the locations of where testing was done. Whilst I remember there were variations in water temperature – I never heard whether “Jack” was ever able to determine the source of any thermal spring.
* * * * *
I think it was in Spring 1952, that Dad and I first met William Fishley Holland. Dad had heard from somewhere, that a Pottery Club for youngsters was being started by Mr Norris – a Dental Mechanic in Clevedon. Mr Norris had a premises in Alexandra Road (accessed by an alley just to left of the entrance to Alexandra Gardens) . I believe that Mr Norris had been on a course at Holland’s Pottery in Court Lane, and had decided it would be a good thing to introduce pottery-making (without the use of a wheel) to children of various ages. He had obviously discussed this idea with Mr Holland and the two of them were waiting on the appointed evening, when about a dozen boys and girls aged from about six to fourteen, my Dad (as an observer) and me, turned up at Mr Norris’ workshop.
Over the next eight weeks or so, we made thumb pots – mine was about 4 inches in diameter and about 3 inches high with a pie-crust frilly top. We tried our hand at decorating pots by scraping lines onto the outside of the pots. We were shown how to join bits of clay successfully together and from there, over the next few weeks, we made coil pots and slab pots. We made plaques and also some pottery animals – I remember one of the girls making a magnificent elephant. All our works was taken away (when dry) for biscuit firing in the kilns at Court Lane. Most survived glaze firing too and these were given back to us in due course.
As Head of Art at Carlton Park School, Dad had always concentrated mainly on developing painting and drawing skills, puppetry making and papier-mache sculpture with his lads. He hadn’t much experience of pottery, himself – but saw how readily the youngsters in Mr Norris’ Pottery Group had taken to this medium. He decided that it was something he could introduce to his school’s Art Curriculum – but first, he knew he needed to develop his own skills considerably. Discussions took place between my Dad and William Fishley Holland for my Dad to come on a two-week pottery course at Clevedon Pottery, during the first two weeks of the school summer holidays.
W. Fishley Holland making balls of clay prior to throwing pots
Clevedon Pottery soon became one of my favourite places to visit – and it was easily accessible now that we had a car – old Mr Fishley Holland always seemed delighted to have visitors. Mum, Dad and I were often taken round the site – to view his storage pens of Fremington clay brought up from North Devon, to watch his muffle kilns being loaded or unloaded, to look at sheds full of long boards laden with drying leather-hard pots. The most enjoyable thing I liked to see however, was Mr Holland throwing pots on his kick-wheel – all done in a few minutes – all exactly the same size and shape. It was said that in his heyday, he could throw a thousand pots in a single day – and having seen him at work, I wouldn’t doubt it.
Dad went on his two week course in the Summer holiday and learnt to throw pots from the master and from his assistant and friend (George Manley). Dad learnt all about pulling handles, slip making and decoration (using goose feathers, scrafitto, and brushes). He experienced loading kilns and firings – and unloading kilns after firing. During the course of his time at Clevedon Pottery, Dad made a considerable number of bowls, containers with lids, jugs, mugs, vases, plates, cups and saucers – using the full range of glazes and decorating techniques that William Fishley Holland and George Manley could provide. At the end of a fortnight, Dad had certainly learnt enough from them that he felt quite capable of introducing Pottery to the curriculum at his School. Mum was so impressed with all that Dad did on his two-week course, that she also did the same course – in the last two weeks of the school summer holidays. She brought home a few bowls and vases – but her best work was a coffee pot, cream jug, sugar bowl and six coffee cups and saucers. One or two of their pieces have survived at home today – some sixty-five years later.
Weston Grammar School for Boys
Because I had passed the Eleven Plus Scholarship, some of the summer holiday was spent making numerous trips to clothes, shoe and sports shops in Weston and Bristol, to buy the correct school uniform as per the “list of needs” sent out by Weston Grammar School.
I was to be in King Alfred House and so I needed a blue rugby short, with a white collar – but I also needed a white shirt as well – though I’m not sure why. I needed black shorts for rugby but white ones for PE. I needed daps and a dap bag. I needed short grey flannel trousers or long grey flannel trousers, grey shirts, long grey socks with one gold and two maroon rings round the top. I also needed a maroon cap with two gold bands round its circumference, a maroon and gold striped scarf, and a dark blue or black long raincoat. I also had to have a black blazer with a pocket badge of the Somerset Griffon. For some reason, Mum’s always seemed to buy blazers that were one or two sizes too big – some boy’s blazers looked so big, that it seemed as if their occupants could walk a couple of paces before the blazer moved !! I was also supplied with a ghastly-looking leather satchel – it was bright orange in colour, and let to much ridicule from other boys – so much so, that I quickly defaced it with biro and pen ink, to give it a “lived-in” appearance.
Weston Grammar School was at the Uphill-end of Weston-super-Mare. It was a large site, on which were both the Girls’ Grammar and the Boys’ Grammar schools. The two schools were joined by a central clock tower and their playing fields were divided by a long straight drive – the Boys were allowed no contact with the Girls – and steps were taken by Staff to see that this rule was adhered to.
Each of the schools was built around a quadrangle – the Boys’ School had classrooms on the north and south side, the Gymnasium and Main Hall were to the west, and to the east were the Staffroom, Head’s office and Physics and Chemistry Labs. On the first floor to the north, was the Geography Room and another Science Lab. Above that was the a room called The Museum – where Weston Museum kept surplus artefacts and display cases. The Girls’ School was a mirror-image of the Boys’ School – except that the Girl’s side had been extensively damaged by incendary bombs during the war. In addition to the main school buildings, there were also a number of concrete-hutted rooms in each school. The whole building was, I think, started in the early 1930’s – my cousin Stuart (son of Edna and Stuart – mentioned earlier) had been a student there in the early 1940’s. Many of the staff who taught him, were still there, when I arrived on the 6th September 1954.
The staff were a strange collection of men – some were old-fashioned academic types who’d started their teaching careers in the 1930’s, and had probably spent much of their early teaching years in private or minor public schools. Others were a newer breed of teachers, who had been in the War – and then, there were another group of much younger men, who were probably in their first few years of teaching.
The headmaster was Mr Whimster, who, because of his rather large red-veined nose, had a reputation for liking his drink – it wasn’t just his nose that gave him that reputation, but also the fact that one of the boy’s fathers was the publican of the Anchor Inn in Bleadon – and Mr Whimster was a known regular.
The Weston Grammar Schools took students from a very wide area. Those from Portishead and Pill went to Temple Meads on the train and then changed trains for Weston. Living in Clevedon, I went on the train from Clevedon to Yatton and caught the commuter corridor train that already contained youngsters from Portishead, Pill, Long Ashton and Backwell – and on to Weston. Youngsters from other localities – such as Banwell, Hutton, and Cheddar went to school on the service bus. The transport costs for Somerset County Council, to ferry all these students to and from school in Weston, must have been considerable.
Somerset County Council did attempt to cut costs one year. Their plan involved putting all of us from Clevedon, Pill and Portishead, on two ancient coaches run by Empress Coaches of Portishead. The Clevedon contingent used to wait noisily outside the Constitution Club in Kenn Road for the coaches to arrive in the morning. They were often late, sometimes broke down and were extremely over-crowded. The drivers found us to be an undisciplined bunch of passengers – they frequently had to stop the coaches partway through the journey, and climb out of their cabs, to remonstrate with us. It also meant that you couldn’t stay after-school for clubs or detentions. After a couple of terms of mayhem, with late arrivals at school, travel sickness etc – we were all glad that Somerset County Council saw good sense, and put us back on the train to travel to and from Weston.
I, and about thirty-five other youngsters, used to catch the 8.00 am steam train from Clevedon Station to Yatton, cross over the footbridge and wait for the 8.17 on the down line. In 1954, this was likely to be one of the “Castle” Class engines pulling eight to ten carriages. The train was usually so crowded that there were insufficient seats – and so the 15 – 20 minute journey to Weston General Station, would be spent standing in the corridor, or sitting on the floor and taking the opportunity to copy homework, or have a last look at material that should have been learnt the night before, for a test later that day. At Weston, you flashed your season ticket at the ticket collector on the gate, tore up the steps, over the footbridge and down the steps on the other side, and ran across the Station forecourt towards the no. 90 or no. 163 bus stop. If the busses were there, you ran as fast as you could to get on first. If they were late, then a huge noisy rabble developed round the bus stops until the busses arrived. it cost tuppence to travel on the bus from the station to Broadoak Road (just outside the school entrance). If you were lucky, you arrived at school at about ten to nine – if unlucky and were later, you got your name taken – three times late meant a detention for one hour after school.
The day began with registration in your classroom, then Assembly in the Main hall. All four hundred and fifty-or-so boys would troupe in class by class – the youngest at the front and the oldest at the back. The staff came in one by one, mounted the steps on the stage and stood in a semi-circle glaring at the assembled boys. Mr Whimster stood at the front of the stage, behind a small table on which was a small lectern. To one side was a larger lectern upon which was an open bible – one of the older boys (usually a prefect) would read the lesson during the service.
Mr Whimster would welcome everyone, announce the hymn and “Tommy” Thomas would strike up on the piano and we would all join in. The reading would be given, a few prayers said, a second hymn sung and then more prayers. We would all troupe out to our first lesson, whilst “Tommy” played some stirring music on the piano.
Break-time was at 10.30 and everyone was expected to be outside – prefects and patrolling staff made sure that you were. Free third-pint bottles of milk were available for those who wanted it, and there was a tuck-shop (run by fifth and sixth-formers), selling doughnuts, “lardies,” Chelsea buns and currant buns. Break finished at 10.45 and the second half of the morning’s lessons resumed.
The morning would end with a bell at 12.10 and we would all line up in a noisy disorganised rabble outside the Main Hall. By about 12.20, the teacher on duty would arrive, quieten us all down and let us file into the Hall. We stood behind the benches at our allocated tables and Grace would be said. After sitting down, the boys would be sent up table by table to get their food – there was no choice of menu. Main courses were roast one day, salad the next, fish the next and so on – puddings seemed to consist largely of milk puddings (sago, semolina or rice) with stewed fruit – usually prunes. We also had fruit salad, jelly and blancmange, apple pie and custard, trifle, chocolate sponge and peppermint sauce.
As boys left their tables to line up to collect their food, their absence provided an opportunity for others to sabotage the vacant table – either by salt being poured into someone’s drinking water or the removal of eating implements.
After lunch, if fine, it was “out on the field” – if wet, then “back to classrooms” – prefects were allocated to each classroom. If it was wet, they would report any breaches of order to a patrolling duty teacher. The prefects had the power to issue detentions for minor problems – which meant an hour after school in detention – after 24 hours notice. Three prefect detentions in a half term meant one “Master’s Detention” – still an hour after school following 24 hours notice – three “Master’s Detentions” in a half term meant having the cane from the Deputy Head (“Bill” Davies)
Afternoon school began at 1.30 with registration, and then we would begin a new round of lessons – Games lessons were usually in the afternoon. In the Autumn and Spring Terms, Games would take the form of either Rugby or Cross-Country – if it was cross-country, then that meant leaving from school, across the golf course, through the sand dunes, along the sands towards Uphill, round the sea-wall, back along the sands, through the dunes, across the golf course and back to school. Some boys who didn’t like cross-country, used to hide in the sand dunes on the way out, and rejoin the stalwarts on the way back ! In the Summer Term, we played cricket – though my particular area of interest was Athletics.
I had always been a pretty good sprinter and a moderate high-jumper. I could already long-jump quite well, but the arrival of Dennis “Doug” Field to the Staff of Weston Boys’ Grammar School in 1959, was a godsend for me.
Weston Boys’ Grammar School Athletic’s Team – I’m in the middle of the middle row
Dennis W. Field had represented England in Triple-Jump at The Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Cardiff in 1958 – he must have seen some talent in me and I spent many hours with him after School, learning new techniques to improve my long-jump and triple-jump – in fact I became Somerset Triple-Jump Champion in the County Athletics Championships at Taunton, and, a few weeks later, was placed Second in the South-West Championships held at Sherborne in Dorset.
School used to end officially at 3.50 pm. Those boys who lived in Pill or Portishead had to catch the 4.02 train, to make the necessary connection at Temple Meads – or they wouldn’t get home until half past seven ! To enable them to catch the 4.02, those boys were allowed to leave around twenty to four to catch the earlier buses to the station – some unsuspecting teachers could be tricked into thinking that you also had to catch that particular train. It was not unusual, therefore, to see as many as double the number of those who actually lived in those “far-off parts of the world,” departing early from school.
Sometimes, if you left school at the proper time, it was possible to be lucky with the buses to the station and after a sprint across the station forecourt, you could get through the barriers onto the platform just as the 4.02 whistle was being blown. Once or twice I’ve even managed to get on it after running down the platform when the train was already moving and one of your obliging friends, already on the train, would open a door for you. If you managed to get on the 4.02, there was always plenty of space, and with the connection at Yatton, I could be walking out of Clevedon Railway Station at four-thirty – according to the Triangle Clock.
The train that we usually caught was the 4.35 to Paddington – “The Merchant Venturer.” Sometimes our homeward train ride was enhanced by celebrities being on board – one afternoon I remember, in late 1958, just before the 4.35 was about to pull out of the station, onto the platform came Billy Wright (Football Captain of England) and his fairly new wife, Joy Beverley (of Beverley Sister’s fame) – Joy (without her sisters) had been performing in Weston and she and Billy were going home. The excitement amongst the boys was considerable and most of us took the opportunity to shake hands with Billy, once he was on board – I would imagine he was very grateful when the train finally got to Yatton and nearly all of us got off, leaving him and his wife in comparative peace for the rest of their journey.
No 6026 “King John” Castle Class engine – “The Merchant Venturer”
Once or twice there were incidents on the 4.35 train – perhaps the most memorable was one time when, within sight of the approaching signal box at Yatton, the train should have started slowing – but it didn’t. We realised, as it thundered on towards Yatton, that we would not be getting off. Someone pulled the emergency communication cord and the tremendous de-acceleration that followed, as we careered through the station, caused lots of passengers to fall over. The train screeched to a halt somewhere between the end of the platform and the road bridge. The Clevedon contingent – realising that if we didn’t get a move on, our connection to Clevedon would leave without us – opened the doors and jumped out onto the grassy embankment with our bags and satchels and began making our way back to the Station. Members of the public who lived in Yatton, also jumped out. The Station Staff and the Guard on the train were extremely unhappy at what we’d done – especially as the “Merchant Venturer” was now stranded with all its doors open on one side – and about fifty or so youngsters and members of the public were now straggling along the edge of the track back towards Yatton station. We got home to Clevedon at our usual time, but we never found out quite why the 4.35 train, hadn’t followed its correct timetable and stopped at Yatton.
Catching the 4.35 train usually meant arriving in Clevedon at 5.00 pm. If you had the misfortune to have an after-school detention, then you would obviously miss the 4.35 and have to catch the 5.15 non-corridor train from Weston – if you were lucky. If you weren’t lucky, then the next train was the 5.40. If you made the 5.15 from Weston, it meant you’d arrive in Clevedon just before 6.00 pm.
There was much “larking about” on the train in the evenings – and even a certain amount of minor vandalism – usually consisting of what you could find to unscrew in the train compartment – ashtrays, pictures from the walls, luggage racks etc – all used to be removed or loosened, and a fair number of light-bulbs would go out of the window. The homeward journey also provided an opportunity to sample the “cookery delights” made by the girls from the Girls’ Grammar School. many a macaroni cheese or shepherd’s pie met its end on the railway track between Weston and Yatton – we were a most discerning group of tasters !
As I progressed up the school, the lure of the coffee bars in Weston – with their thunderous juke-boxes, the maturing girls from the Girls’ Grammar School, visiting the Open Air Swimming Pool in the Summer Term and “chatting up” French girls who had
come for a month on the “Bristol/Bordeaux Exchange – and staying for Athletics Practice after school – meant that I often caught the 5.15 train from Weston.
When I was almost 13 years of age, Mum and Dad bought a piece of land – in what was later to be known, as Edward Road South. Actually at that time, it was just a muddy track with two or three bungalows in a large field that contained horses. The owner of the field had divided the land into potential building plots – and ours was the second plot in, from Edward Road. The plot was two hundred and twenty feet long (sloping down into woodland – known as Bennet’s Ripple) and forty-two and a half feet wide – just wide enough for a small bungalow.
On one side of our plot was one of the existing bungalows – on the other side, builders were putting up a house. Our first job was to put a fence across the road frontage – then Mum, Dad and I began work on planning the garden. Dad thought it would be good to break up the long length of garden by having some low natural stone walls running partway across the garden. As there was no building stone on the plot, Dad bought someone’s tumbledown wall in Old Church Road, that he’d seen advertised in the Clevedon Mercury.
Ferrying the stones by car to Edward Road South, together with bags of sand and cement was not the easiest of tasks. It meant many journeys to bring the collapsed wall up to our building plot. Dad’s barrow (which also had to come in the car), was one of those flimsy garden wheelbarrows – not really meant for transporting anything other than leaves, weeds or a bit of compost. We removed the turf and began building our walls – it took a month or so, but at last it was finished.
Our next task was to plant a rose garden and fruit trees further down the garden – and here the likelihood of future difficulties were revealed. What we hadn’t known was that further down the slope – under the turf – was about four inches of soil with the odd small pieces of limestone in it. Below that was another four or five inches of soil which contained a lot of stones of varying sizes and below that again – was solid rock – not ideal for growing roses or fruit trees ! Pickaxes and crowbars were purchased, and with Dad and I digging – and sometimes Mum using a sieve, it took many weeks to dig the rose-beds to a depth of about eighteen inches, and much deeper holes for the ten or so fruit trees that Dad had ordered.
Dad used to get his water for cement mixing from a nearby house in Edward Road and carry it round in a large enamel jug. The house was owned by an elderly chap in his eighties – Mr White. He and Dad became very friendly over the months, and when we were fed up with either building walls or digging holes, Dad and I used to go round and sit with old Mr White in the summer house of his very large garden, and talk over a pot of tea… He was a very interesting old man – having spent a lot of his life in the Indian Army at the turn of the century.
It occurred to Mr White, that the owner of the horse field in Edward Road South, must have made quite a bit of money by selling off building plots – Mr White thought he might do the same with his vast garden. He engaged a surveyor – who eventually marked out his land into four building plots – all them facing onto the opposite side of Edward Road South.
Because he enjoyed our company and got on well with Dad, Mr White offered one of these plots to Dad – at a special cheap price of £300. It was a level site with quite a good depth of soil – and it also had a flat-roofed stone-built shed at one corner. Dad leapt at the chance and arranged a loan with the Westminster Bank in Hill Road. Mum and Dad owned this piece of land for just over a year – but it was soon obvious that by owning two pieces of land, they were never going to be able to afford to build a house on either of them – one of them had to go !
“Ripple Hollow” – 40 Edward Road South
I don’t think that Mum and Dad had never considered living at Westbourne Avenue for ever – for them it was a “stepping-stone” to the next stage in their lives. They had, in late 1956, begun designing their retirement bungalow – and the only way to make the dream come true, was to sell the plot of land they had bought from Mr White and get a further loan to build their bungalow on the other plot. The land they’d bought from Mr White, was sold (at a good profit), and an architect was employed to produce working drawings of their designs. Victor Parsons, the then landlord of the “Waggon and Horses” pub in Old Street, was also a builder – my parents engaged him, and work began in the Spring of 1958. All was completed over the next few months and we moved into “Ripple Hollow” in October 1958.
“Ripple Hollow” under construction – Summer 1958
It was a well-built bungalow, with some features similar to our house in Westbourne Avenue. It had walk-in wardrobes in the two bedrooms, a bathroom, a small lobby, a dining/hall, fitted kitchen and a utility room with walk-in airing cupboard and store cupboard. The 16 foot square lounge had a large picture-window – with views over the woods at the bottom of the garden and onwards to the Mendips beyond. The lounge also had french doors and two porthole windows. There was a floor-to-ceiling natural stone fireplace with a solid fuel open fire (with back boiler). Beyond the backdoor (but under cover), was an outside toilet and also a coal store with a hatch. Between the adjoining single garage (which had doors at both ends) was a covered passageway from the front garden to the back.
Over the years, the garden developed and flourished – providing hours of enjoyment and produce over the years. Dad and I built a small patio outside the lounge – this patio was later incorporated into part of a 20 feet X 10 feet in-ground swimming pool area – we built it of concrete block, rendered with a paved surround – it was approximately 6 feet deep at one end and three feet at the other. Painted blue with a pump and filtration system of our design, that provided crystal-clear water. Dad and I were immensely proud of our achievement.
My Dad was born in Salford, Manchester, in 1914. He often spoke to me, about when he was a very small boy, of visits by groups of injured young men – with their helpers from the local hospital – to the family home. His Mother used to invite these poor chaps for tea – many of whom were amputees or had been blinded in the trenches of Flanders. As my Dad grew older, she would talk to my Dad about the places they had fought – mainly in the Ypres Salient. Names like Ypres, Hill 60, Menin and Poperinghe, became familiar places to him, over the three or four years that these men visited for afternoon tea on Saturdays. Such was the effect on him, that as he grew older, he would avidly read books on the horrors of trench warfare in the Great War.
Early in 1959, he saw an advert in a Sunday newspaper which interested him greatly – a company called “The School Travel Association” were organising an eight day school trip to Belgium, with visits to Holland and France – including an overnight stay and sightseeing tour in London. The proposed trip would take place at Easter and cost £15. Making further enquiries, Dad found out that he needed a minimum of thirty youngsters – so that two staff could travel free. He put it to Mr Greenland – the head of Carlton Park Secondary Boys’ School – who had himself, been in the trenches in Belgium during the First World War – he encouraged my Dad to go ahead and organise the trip.
Late in the afternoon on the day before Good Friday, my Dad, and another member of Staff from Carlton Park – together with twenty-nine hand-picked boys from East Bristol and me (aged 15) – set off from Temple Meads Station. We were met at Paddington by a representative from STA, who escorted us to a rather seedy hotel in the vicinity. The next morning, we climbed aboard a coach which took us on a lightning tour of the sights – including Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s, Trafalgar Square, The Mall, Buckingham Palace, back down The Mall and into Whitehall, then Parliament Square, and onto Victoria Station. Here we boarded a train for Dover – with hundreds of other youngsters.
We eventually arrived in Dover and, armed with our collective passport, my Dad ushered us up the gangway, and onto the ferry, for the three hour or so trip, to Ostend. It was a new experience for all of us, and it soon became obvious that there seemed to be a lot of badly-organised school groups on board – many of whom, had managed to get their hands on alcohol.
As we left harbour at about 5.00 pm, the seas became rougher and rougher – tossing our ferry and its passengers about. The under-age drinkers soon became violently ill, and it was not long before the decks, toilets and corridors were awash with vomit.
We arrived in Ostend at about 8.00 pm, and were met by the proprietor of the “Hotel Vindictive” (Henri Lebin) – where we were to stay for the week. A Belgian coach (Goetthal’s), took us and our bags, to our destination on the promenade at Ostend – overlooking the sandy beach and sea. There was a lovely hot meal waiting for us – with the most glorious chips I had ever tasted ! Our accommodation was in bunk-beds – three to a room – on the top floor, with a bathroom at the end of the corridor. After the boat journey we had just experienced, it was pure heaven.
Continental breakfasts were a bit of a shock to the lads – they were expecting cereal and toast and marmalade – rather than what was on offer. After breakfast, we were taken on a guided tour of part of Ostend by the STA representative – and then had the afternoon free. The following days included a day trip to Bruges – including a boat trip on the canals, a visit to the Sepulchre of the Holy Blood, clambering up what seemed like hundreds of steps to the top of the Belfrey, and a tour of the Beguinage. We did a day trip to the battlefield at Waterloo and visited Brussels – including a visit to the top of the Atomium and a visit to the Royal palace. We also did a day trip to Ghent and visited the magnificent Castle of The Count of Flanders. On another day we crossed the border into Holland – to the small border town of Sluis and then took the ferry across the River Scheldt to the island of Valcharen. Another day trip took us across the French border into the Pas de Calais, to visit Dunkirk – the town and surrounding countryside still “pock-marked” with the signs of war – the beach still littered with the rusting hulks of trucks and the twisted shapes of sunken ships and boats – I even found and brought back, a German helmet ! We visited many cemeteries that day – filled with thousands of graves of the fallen – from both the First and Second World Wars.
The highlight for Dad, however, was the day trip to Ypres and the visits to Hill 60 and the Menin Gate – together with visits to the small towns and villages that had formed the front line of the Ypres Salient. The sight of countless memorials and cemeteries marking the graves of thousands of allied soldiers killed in the area – together with numerous cemeteries with black crosses of German soldiers – was a most moving experience for us all.
For Dad – to tramp round and through the trenches, to walk through the still-shattered woods that had seen so much death and destruction, brought tears to his eyes – as he saw again, the faces of the men he remembered visiting his home for tea, all those years ago.
Henri Lebin, proved to be quite a character – as well as providing “good” accommodation and food. Dad and his colleague from Carlton Park discussed with Henri, the possibility of coming again the following year – only this time, they would organise the holiday themselves.
When back in England, that’s exactly what Dad looked into doing – he made arrangements to go London by a local Bristol coach (without an overnight stay), train from Victoria to Dover, First Class on the ferry (to avoid the hordes of vomiting youngsters from other schools), Goetthal’s coaches for all visits and seven nights in the Vindictive – he did it the following Easter for £12 a head. All in all, Dad organised this annual trip until 1967 – and even then, it only cost £20 per head !
From Train to Scooter
Like most youngsters, I had a succession of wheeled transport over the years. When I lived at 76 Old Church Road, my transport had been a green and red pedal train engine – in which I used to career up and down the side path of the house from the front gate to the brick-floored yard at the back.
My green and red pedal train at 76 Old Church Road
In the early days at Westbourne Avenue, I had a strongly built three-wheeler, on which two friends could stand on the back, as I pedalled furiously round the paths and pavements. It improvised as a tank in “war” games, or as a police car in “cops and robbers” games. It travelled all over Old Church Hill and Wain’s Hill, though I’m not quite sure what happened to it in the end.
My first two wheeled bike was bought when I was eight – it was a maroon coloured BSA with a thin gold line painted on the frame and mudguards. Dad bought it from Denmead’s Cycle Shop in The Triangle. It was my pride and joy for several years, and I used to go on cycle rides all round the lanes – one afternoon I even rode it to St David’s School in Yatton (the present site of Cadbury Country Club), to play cricket for St Nicholas School. I lost my bike on one occasion – having left it leaning against the flagpole on the Salthouse Fields whilst I went off to play with friends by the Marine Lake. I forgot completely about it and went home – leaving it still propped against the flagpole. I didn’t discover it missing until two or three days later – my Dad and I searched all over the Salthouse area – without success. Eventually, Dad contacted Clevedon Police Station – someone had come across my bike leaning where I’d left it, and they’d very kindly wheeled it all the way to the Police Station and handed it in. We never found out who that kind person was, but I was very grateful for their honesty.
I eventually outgrew it and when I was about thirteen years of age, I bought a second-hand pale blue Raleigh racing bike with drop handlebars from a shop on the corner of Gardens Road and Alexandra Road – it cost me £8. I rode it all over the place – even to Broadmead in Bristol – though the furthest I rode it was to Kilve and East Quantoxhead.
When I was sixteen, Dad told me that a member of the staff at his school, had a 125cc Douglas Vespa Scooter for sale. He asked me if I was interested in purchasing it – its price was £60 – too good to miss. With a loan from him, and armed with a provisional licence,
My Vespa 125 at “Ripple Hollow”
I went to Nailsea to pick it up. It was pale blue with a long double seat and a large windscreen – which acted rather like a sail. If the wind was against you, the maximum speed could be as little as 15 mph. If the wind was behind you, then your speed could easily be in excess of 60 mph. It was very economic – about 125 miles to the gallon using two-stroke petrol – and it was mechanically fairly simple – though I had to carry out fairly frequent de-cokes on it.
In nice weather, I used to ride it to school in Weston – rather than going on the train. The freedom that scooter ownership provided was almost limitless, and it meant I was able to participate in all kinds of activities round and about in Clevedon, Nailsea and Weston.
Jobs for the Boy – Bolstering Income
I began doing summer jobs from 1958 – when I was fourteen – my first employment was picking dwarf french beans at Weir’s Nursery in Tickenham. We had boxes about 2 ft x 18 inches by 18 inches deep to fill – I did it for three weeks – earning one shilling for each box filled. It was back-breaking work but earned me nearly 20 shillings (£1) in cash each day.
The following summer, I worked at the “Haven Cafe” (now “The Little Harp”) on the beach, with three other youngsters. We began work at 10.00 am by loading up the coffee maker and serving morning coffee (and toasted tea-cakes), then lunches that consisted of trout and chips, cod and chips, chicken and chips or fried egg and chips. We also did afternoon tea with either toasted tea-cakes or cream tea with scones, clotted cream and jam. A lot of the time I waited at tables, but occasionally I also cooked – though I never had to do the washing up. We got paid three shillings and sixpence an hour and had to put any tips into a pot for distribution at the end of the week. After we had cleared up and washed up and wiped down, we usually finished at about 5.15.
I had been there a little over two weeks when I remember one old chap coming in for afternoon tea. I was waiting on tables and there weren’t many customers. He was a nice old boy and as I served him, I chatted to him. He was so pleased with the service and the company, that he wanted to give me half a crown (about 12 pence in today’s money). I thanked him but told him the owner’s policy towards tips – he insisted on seeing the boss (I don’t remember the name of the boss, but he was Italian with an English wife) and told him how well I had served him and that I had been both friendly and polite. He asked if it would be possible for the boss to open that evening – for it was the old man’s birthday – and he wanted to bring his family for a meal. The boss explained the limited food menu, but the old chap didn’t seem to mind. The old man asked if I was available to serve them that evening – the boss agreed to open up for the family of six at 8.30 and stated that he and his wife would cook and I would serve.
I returned in the evening at the appointed time – the old man and his family duly arrived, armed with a couple of bottles of wine and a big tin containing a birthday cake. I sat them down, took their orders and – much to the boss’ annoyance – I was offered a glass of wine whilst the food was being cooked. When the food was ready, I served them and after clearing away, presented them with plates and knives for the cake – there was even some for me too. At the end of the meal, the family called for the boss and his wife to thank them for their delicious meal and the old man paid the bill – he then said that as I had looked after them so well and had been so kind to him during the afternoon, he was giving me a tip of a crisp £1 note. It was obvious from the thunderous look on the face of the boss, that he was unhappy at this, but he refrained from saying anything until after the guests had gone. He demanded the £1 from me as it was “tips” – but I insisted that the old man had given it to me personally for “my services” – so I refused and left for home at about half past ten. The next day when I arrived for work, I was told by the boss that because I had kept the tip money for myself, I was no longer required and was dismissed. He did, however, pay me my wages up to date – that was the first time I had ever been sacked !
I had heard that Clevedon Urban District Council was looking for beach attendants – car parking duties and selling deckchairs – so I walked next door from “The Haven” and saw Bernard Faraway (the Beachmaster) in his office, and was immediately hired. There were about ten of us and jobs were allocated on a daily basis – it was a fairly mundane sort of activity, wherever you were asked to go – trying to sell car parking tickets to motorists parked on the road by the pier or by the tennis courts in Elton Road, or looking after one of the three big car parks that Clevedon had – the Salthouse, the Hawthorns and Ladye Bay. Selling deckchairs was also a rather thankless task – the “plum job” however, was to be in charge of the paddle boats and rowing boats on the Marine Lake – that job, mysteriously, always went to Bernard Faraway’s son, Geoffrey !
Once or twice, we had to go on the Pier and help when the paddle steamers came in – that was quite exciting and it was quite eerie walking down the slippery cast iron steps and ladders under the pier-head to reach the lower stages to tie up the steamer.
Whatever your job had been during the day, the last thing you did before you went home (after cashing-up), was to gather the hundreds of deckchairs scattered along Green Beach and Beach Lawns, and stack and tie them under tarpaulin in amongst the bushes near the shelter adjacent to Little Harp Bay. The deckchairs in Little Harp Bay would be stacked at the base of the steps under tarpaulin, and similarly, those on the Pier Beach. It was not a well-paid job – just three shillings and sixpence an hour – and on wet days, when it was particularly miserable – we were often sent home without pay. I worked for the Council the following summer as well – and “mysteriously” Geoffrey Faraway still always got picked to work on the boats at the Marine Lake !
In subsequent years, I worked two summers at Hales Bakery – but got sacked from there during my second stint there – for discharging a large quantity of sponge mix through a hatch in the floor, before the ladies down below had their hopper in place – covering them and their equipment in several hundredweight of yellow cake mix. I worked the rest of that particular summer as a labourer for Tappenden’s building company working on houses in Edward Road South, and at the refurbishment of “The Regent.” Another summer I worked for J.A. Venn as a labourer on their big building site on Strawberry Hill and the following summer at the Mushroom Farm in Wrington.
As well as working my Summer holidays on a variety of jobs, I managed for a few years, from 1959 onwards, to work on the Christmas Post deliveries out of the post office at Six Ways. Because I knew the upper part of Clevedon and could strap my large postal bag onto the back of my Vespa, the round I was usually given was Marine Parade, Wellingron Terrace, Bay Road, Edgehill Road, Argyle Road and Lower Cambridge Road. In the “build-up” before Christmas, people tended to be quite generous with Christmas gifts for the “postie” – this might seem unfair to the permanent postman left back at the sorting office, but as the gifts usually consisted of a mince-pie and a “small glass of something to keep out the cold” – it had to be consumed on one’s travels.
Hard Lessons and a Satisfactory Outcome
Academically, I did not do well at Weston Grammar. I had always found difficulty with tests and exams – and because of the varying quality of teaching at the Grammar School, lack of motivation on my part, and not taking life seriously enough – I found most subjects quite problem.
September 1958 found me embarking on O’Level Studies in the fifth form. I did badly in the “mocks” in February 1959, and badly in the actual examinations in June and July – I passed in only one subject (Art) and failed in eight or nine others. It was suggested that because I was the youngest in my year, there was an opportunity for me to stay in the “fifth year” for another year, and do retakes at Christmas and in the following June/July.
As you can imagine, it was quite hard to return to school in the Autumn Term 1959 – to be in the “fifth year” again – with boys I didn’t really know, and it was quite hard because my friends, with whom I had come up through the school, were now entering the Sixth Form ahead of me. Failure again would mean leaving school the following year, with hardly any qualifications and having to get a job. I “knuckled down” in my second-year-fifth and worked considerably harder to overcome the precarious position I found myself in.
In preparation for possible failure however, I successfully applied for training as a Navigation Officer with the Alfred Holt Shipping Company in Liverpool. By the end of the year however, I had passed most of the subjects that I had earlier failed – and even a few new ones – though English Literature, Chemistry and Physics continued to elude me. In September 1960, aged sixteen years and ten months, I went into the Lower VIth.
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In setting down my thoughts and experiences of growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s in Clevedon, I have, where practical, tried to put things in some sort of chronological order – however, there are many occasions where I have recorded incidents as they have occurred to me. It is in no way a complete story, but perhaps gives some insight into life that could easily have been experienced by anyone of a number of youngsters growing up in Clevedon in the immediate post-war years.
What of the the period after the end of the 1950’s ? – well, I actually got my A’Levels at Weston Grammar School and except, for a period of three years whilst getting qualified at College, I stayed on in Clevedon until 1967. Since then, marriage, children, a long career in education and retirement, have all taken place – and whilst I’ve not lived in Clevedon for more than 50 years, I still have fond memories of the town where I lived and grew up, and the people I knew during the 1940’s and 1950’s.