The Ice Cube 1963
After the exceptional snow fall of 1962-63, as the snow began to thaw forming floods then freezing over, we were left with an area of thick ice covering several fields where Somerfield and the football pitch are now. Its here we spent several weeks playing on this giant natural skating rink. Many of the children in Malmesbury would be there each day. We went via the old stone bridge over the River Avon next to Athelstan Garage. Just over this bridge on the left was the cattle market and prior to the Railway Inn was the entrance to the “Ice Cube” the name we had given to this new play area.
I remember large cranes lifting into place the two new footbridge spans replacing the stonewalls of the old Staines Bridge by Athelstan Garage. Just over this bridge was a road leading to our railway station. Beyond this was a path and next to it a water meadow fenced off from the railway with gates either end leading to Cracker Clark’s Mill. Further on were the old steps now replaced with concrete one’s reaching up to the hill top town passing through Abbey House Gardens and behind the Abbey itself.
When I was six years old, three friends and I went down to the station early in the morning to meet the crew of the”Malmesbury Bunk” so called as it always left the station bunker first. We had been talking to the crew the day before and had arranged to ride one of the last trains out of Malmesbury to Little Somerford on the foot plate with the driver and fireman. I think they may have been a Mr. Cooper and Mr. Stoneham but I’m not sure. We each clambered onto the footplate, paying sixpence to the driver. Then we left the station pulling our goods wagons and waving goodbye to the Station Master, possibly Fred Archer.
We crossed the level crossing at Cracker Clarks and on past Abbey House approaching the tunnel under Holloway, here the driver picked me up to pull the whistle chain as I was the smallest child. I have no idea how we got back to Malmesbury from Little Somerford. Fourteen years later I became the equivalent of a fireman called a second man and rode a few times with a Mr. Stoneham, probably the same one only now the steam had been replaced by diesel and I had my own separate little lever for those nice two tone air horns.
The slaughter house used to be situated where Park Close is now. When I was about six years old my friend Keith Lockyear took me to see his dad who worked at the abattoir and after a guided tour of the place, where we saw everything as it happened including the stunning of the animals, we were shown what happened to the parts of animals not sent to the local butcher.
The guts were squeezed by hand to remove their contents before being stored in a pile for the offal man next to piles of horns, hoofs, eye balls and other parts. We then spent a little time having a go at squeezing the guts ourselves. After this very exciting view of life I spent the next few weeks building cardboard and plasticine abattoirs where I would cut carcasses in half with razor blades. Weird Child.
Cray fishing with Brian Rivett was a real treat. Brian would first make his nets from chicken wire showing us all how it was done. Then he would take rashers of bacon from his mother’s ‘fridge’ and we would set off to Back Bridge. Along the road to Brokenborough from Malmesbury is a T junction, and to the right is a bridge called Back Bridge, but one hundred yards prior to the junction where the river runs along side the road, is an area we spent many hours damming up the river and learning to swim.
This was the area we knew as Back Bridge. Here we would cast in the flat dustbin lid sized squares of chicken wire, with baler twine attached to the corners and a piece of bacon tied in the middle, sinking to the bottom of the river. We then followed Brian down stream, placing three or four more of these devices on the bottom of the river. Then a period of time later which I can’t remember, we would go back to each net and pull it in with its many crayfish on board. These would be placed in a bucket of water and later transferred to a sack before we set off home.
Brian would then build a bomb fire at the top of the garden . On top was placed an old galvanised washing container full of water, which was brought to the boil and then into this was placed the crayfish still alive. They would quickly turn from their original dark brown to bright red. Then we would all enjoy a lovely meal of burnt sausages, smoked slices of white bread and boiled crayfish, yum yum!