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….us where there was a general store, school, church, a public house and one or two small businesses; it was the larger of the two villages. Lower Minety, some two miles on, boasted a railway station on the main line from London to the West Country.Our new home was set back from the road in a large garden bounded by tall, overgrown hedgerows. The garden had gone wild, tall grass, nettles and other weeds had overwhelmed most of it. The cottage was of Cotswold stone construction roofed with split stone tiles.

There was no electricity, main water supply or main sewer, not even a septic tank system and the only means of heating was a fireplace in the living room.

Drinking water came from a well at the end of the front garden, from which water was drawn with the aid of a pail on the end of a wooden crook. The water was always ice cold and sparkling clear, probably from a natural spring, for I never knew it to dry up, not even in the hottest summer weather.

The front door of the house led straight into the living room off which there was a stone-floored scullery. A narrow staircase wound upwards from the living room to the two bedrooms. None of the rooms was particularly light because the only windows were at the front of the house and these were quite small. There was a wooden lean-to shed at the side of the house and an outside toilet built on to the rear of the house. The toilet was primitive, being nothing more than a bucket below a wooden seat, but this was by no means the general arrangement for these ‘privies’ as they were called. Some were ‘earth closets’, some a deep pit with a seat over it, the half-year emptying of which caused every door and window in the vicinity to be sealed. The condition of the privies was often a good guide to the character of their owners, some were horrible holes, others fairly decent, but in the main they were kept well cleaned with the seat scrubbed to show whiteness and the brick floor raddled.

Our house was typical Cotswold, built of limestone quarried from the long ridge of this stone which stretches from the North Yorkshire Moors through the Cotswolds to Lyme Bay in Dorset, and which supplies some of England’s finest building stone. This is the oolite limestone or roestone, a rock comprised of small rounded granules like the roe of a fish. The word oolite comes from the Greek words meaning ‘egg’ and ‘stone’. Some beds of oolite give a fine-grained stone called freestone which, when first quarried, is soft enough to enable the stonemason to achieve precise shaping and to produce delicate, ornate carving, giving rise to distinctive Cotswold style architecture which is a credit to the craftsman’s skill. When newly dug it varies in colour from bright orange/buff to pale cream according to the depth and location of the quarries. Roofing tiles come from a special kind of surface quarry, the stone being dug in the autumn and left exposed all the winter to the frosts. It then splits easily along the joints. Some tiles however occur naturally; these are found in the layered rock and quarried in thickness almost ready for use.

The tiles are laid on the roof so that as they rise to the coping they are progressively smaller. There are names for the various sizes, such as Long Wynetts, Short Bachelors, Middle Becks and Muffities. The traditional ruler for measuring them was marked in lengths having no relation to inches or centimetres, they were probably handed down by the Romans. As well as providing the material for churches, manor houses, farms and cottages the stone was used for smaller necessities of rural life; the scarcity of timber on the bare uplands was not a problem when stone for gateposts, stiles, troughs, walling for fields orchards and gardens was close at hand to be had for the digging. Stone walling no longer employs many workers regularly today, wire fencing being quicker.

Walling stone must come from a certain kind of quarry and have been dug at the right time of year, otherwise frost would crumble it and ruin the wall in its first winter. With the passage of time the walls and tiles grow a kind of golden moss. Someone once wrote ‘The Cotswolds consists of scenes that do not offend the eye, fields of pale grass, yellow barley and wheat and brown ploughed earth to form a patchwork bordered by stone walls and villages of cream and honey gold houses with steep pitched roofs and dormer windows and tall chimney stacks.’

From the end of the sixteenth century to the early part of the eighteenth century when the wool and clothing trades flourished, the Manor Houses, farms and cottages achieved the greatest comeliness, which give the villages and small towns of the Cotswolds their unique distinction today. Probably the most familiar features are gables, steep pitched roofs and dormer windows covered with stone slates.

The dormer window came about because of the low walls of the cottages, which rarely reached a height of more than sixteen feet, some were as low as fourteen feet, and consequently, with a steep pitched roof there was only about five feet or so above the upper floor, leaving no room for windows under the eaves. By carrying the walls into miniature gables, windows could be inserted, thus forming the dormer.

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The usual arrangement of the English village consisted of three main classes of domestic buildings: the cottage of the farm worker, a few middle class homes and the Manor House or Mansion of the Squire.

The cottages of rough stone and rubble were often built by the cottagers themselves with the help of a mason, sometimes literally thrown together with little or no regard architecturally, for the purpose of providing a hearth to cook on and warmth and shelter after the day’s work was done.

The middle class cottages of the yeomen and prosperous farmers were constructed of local materials, there being an abundance of wood and stone available in England at first, but later, when timber became much dearer because of ship building and other demands, the wooden part of the external structure was wider spaced and filled with wattle and daub or brickwork in patterns. Bricks had been introduced by the Romans much earlier, but for some reason had not been used extensively until about the fifteenth century when they became commonplace for chimney stacks and floor paving.

The better kind of house was built by semi-skilled craftsmen, mostly mobile workers relying on more highly trained men for the masonry dressing. The Manor House, of good freestone, was built by masons according to the taste and means of the owner.

With the Dissolution of the Monasteries large numbers of masons who had been permanently attached to these establishments were freed and many of them and their descendants turned to domestic building, as well as working on Parish Churches, travelling from one village to another. It is to these stone masons we owe so much for the legacy they left of good buildings in Cotswold villages which have survived for three hundred years or more.

The word ‘Cotswold’ is Anglo-Saxon for ‘Hills of the sheep cotes’, coined by Saxon farmers when the hills were grazed by the almost extinct Cotswold Lions sheep, which are direct descendants of the Long Wools brought over by the Romans to provide wool to clothe the occupying Legions. They once yielded the best wool in Europe. In the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when woollen cloth manufacturers became England’s main industry and the Cotswolds one of the most important centres, most towns and villages were alive with cottage industry.

Rich merchants built the towns and villages, and the churches which looked more like Cathedrals. From the eighteenth century the ‘Cotswold Lion’ began to decline mainly due to the development of mixed farming; which began to support the gentry living in their large houses, halls and manors. The wool trade around Stroud and neighbouring villages continued as cottage industries until early in the nineteenth century when it was almost totally put out of business by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Mills.

During the Roman occupation of Britain the Cotswolds became a key area. There is a mass of evidence of the Romans’ work there, not the least of which are the highways, in fact some of the busiest main roads of today follow the routes of the three principal Roman roads across the hills: Fosse Way running north eastwards from Bath, Ermin Way north-westwards from Silchester, and Akeman Street. They run straight and in some places are built high for defence. Talking of high ground – the chalk uplands, the Downs, are as much part of the Cotswold scene as the stone cottages, Manor Houses, churches and rolling countryside found elsewhere in the region. The rounded slopes covered in springy turf, and deep valleys with no streams at the bottom are formed because of the softness of the limestone rock, thus giving the Cotswolds their unique distinction.

The northern hills are wider sweeping and as the eye roves across them they seem to go on and on before yet another begins; in the south the hills are more compact with valleys that pitch down steeply almost like ravines. But overall there are the pleasing, flowing lines. The stranger must not be deceived though into thinking these hills are cosy, as the true lover and one familiar with them will readily admit. When seen under a mantle of the low dark cloud, especially in the northern part, they can appear bleak and inhospitable, but for those with a deep feeling for the type of landscape it is part of its fascination. The scene often seems more remote from civilisation than it really is and makes for one of the pleasures of walking in the hills.the sense of being alone.

Burial mounds and other earthworks of prehistoric man, his figures cut out of the chalk, his track-ways and traces of his field system still exist on the Downs.

Clumps and woods of beech are part of the characteristics of the uplands; they accentuate the contours which stand out against the skyline. It is thought the Downs were once covered in beech woods which the early settlers cleared for cultivation.

It seems that vegetation derives a special quality from the limestone soil, which is fairly shallow and drains easily; rain soaks through the chalk which acts as a filter and flows away beneath the surface to emerge elsewhere as springs–beautiful sparkly clear, cool water bubbling to the surface. The soil warms up quickly after the rain, and for this reason grassland, which is the most widespread form of vegetation on the downland, supports a wide range of flowering plants and a wealth of insects.

Some plants are to be found almost everywhere on the Downs, these include tufted hair grass, quaking grass, tor-grass, cocksfoot, cowslip, wild thyme, the edible salad burnet, chalk milkwort, sedge and vetches, of which the horseshoe vetch, with its plumes of yellow flowers and horseshoe shaped pods, is the most attractive.

On occasions we youngsters played on the Downs throwing ourselves down on the turf to regain our breath after some energetic activities we examined this fascinating world of nature at close quarters, and, though much was familiar to us, we still found time to wonder at the profusion and variety of it all. We plucked vetch pods, popping them to reveal the black peas inside, chewed on arrowhead shaped leaves of sorrel, one eye tight shut to the sharp taste, leaping up with a cry when we sat on a stemless thistle, the large purple flower of which grows in the middle of a rosette-shaped mat of prickly leaves lying flat on the ground.

We lay on our backs to gaze up at the hazy blue sky through the gently waving, quaking grasses, the lovely quietness only broken by the song of a skylark, or the cry of a plover. A Kestrel wings across the sky to hover overhead, marking a small mammal on the ground most likely. Bees droned about their business amongst the clover. Orchids, which have roots that sustain them even in drought, grow more plentifully on the Downs than anywhere else in Britain. The fragrant orchid and the pyramidal orchid were quite familiar to us, both of which grow in profusion on some areas of the downland. To my knowledge we did not find the beautiful bee orchid, which is very rare, as also are the monkey and military orchid, but all can be found there.

Some of the least destructive and almost certainly the most colourful of the downland insects are the butterflies; three of the best known are the Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue and the Silver-spotted Skipper, these being almost exclusive to the Downs. Other butterflies found there are the Marbled White and Small Blue.

What is quite surprising really is the wide variety of bird life on the Downs, considering there is a lack of surface water there. In the copse, scrub land and wooded areas common species such as the song thrush, blackbird, chaffinch, green woodpecker, wood pigeon, dove and even the willow warbler, while robin and wren can be seen mainly in the scrub land. The linnet, magpie, whitethroat, bullfinch and occasionally the odd pheasant also make their home there, whilst out on the grassland are the skylark, meadow pipit and starling.

Small mammals add to the population of wildlife inhabiting the downland, these include moles, hedgehogs, voles, shrews, hares and of course the rabbits.

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Here then we have some of the features and their origins which go to make up the Cotswold surroundings. Our new home was in a totally different environment to that we had been used to in Malmesbury. In all directions there was open countryside, to the near fields which stretched away to the fir trees of Flisteridge Wood which cloaked the hillside rising to the horizon.

To the front, the hedgerow bounded a patchwork of fields which gave way to the distant scrubland we came to know as Old Parks, a kind of wilderness of gorse bushes, with scatterings of coarse grass, bare patches covered in ant hills, and riddled with rabbit warrens, the place was teeming with rabbits.

There was just one solitary cottage about a quarter of a mile away between Minety village and us. In the other direction, a few hundred yards up the road, was Greenslades farm, and beyond that, half a mile or so away, was Kembrey’s Dairy Farm. Mr Kembrey delivered our daily milk in a horse-drawn float loaded with a couple of large churns. When he arrived you were ready with your jug into which he ladled the milk with a pint or half-pint measure.

Among the other tradesmen who called was Mr Sutton, the baker. Bread was mostly baked on the premises by small village bakers like Mr Sutton who delivered to the surrounding hamlets and villages. What a wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread wafted along the road as you approached his bakery or followed in the wake of his delivery van.

Another caller was the hardware man, once a week or maybe once a fortnight. He carried all manner of things, including of course the all important paraffin oil for the lamp, the only means of lighting other than candles.

We relied heavily on these delivery people, otherwise it meant a long walk to Moss’s General Store over two miles away at Minety.

Most things had by now found their place in our home; in the scullery a large circular earthenware pan covered with a muslin cloth was kept full of ice-cold water from the well. Furniture was moved this way and that, finally sitting in the desired arrangement, rugs were laid, knick-knacks appeared about the place, especially on the mantle shelf over the fireplace, pots of flowers on window sills, a lot of geraniums. There was chopped wood in the wood shed ready for the coming winter and things would be comfy.

Father had begun the task of clearing the overgrown garden, digging a plot and planting vegetables and fruit.

There will always remain with me that distinct smell of the couch fires; father used to keep a bonfire burning day and night to get rid of all the turf, weeds and rubbish, including the dreaded couch grass, which would continue to grow from the most minute piece of root left in the ground.

A clothes line flapped washing high to catch the wind that swept over the tall hedges.

Undergrowth was cleared from the end of the garden to reveal a brick pigsty which we turned into a chicken house, and a wire-mesh run was erected in which we kept a couple of hens and their dozen chickens. Sometimes by day they were allowed to roam free outside the pen to peck and scratch at the dusty areas of the garden, and out through the hedge onto the roadside where they found a good supply of grit They were in little danger from traffic on the road for this was very sparse consisting mainly of three or four motor vehicles a day, the rest being horse-drawn carts and the like.

Collecting eggs meant searching the hedgerows and other likely places where the hens might have laid. They were well fed; besides the feed they picked up whilst foraging they were given kitchen scraps, some of which, like potato peelings, were boiled into a ‘mash’ in an old saucepan. In addition they also had Indian corn which we stored in an old milk churn. When Mum went into the run to feed them the chickens flapped and fluttered all around her. Every so often we had chicken for dinner; my father would come out of the chicken run carrying one and we would know what was happening; the hapless bird was despatched quickly and hung up to bleed. We didn’t grieve over this for they were not looked upon entirely as pets; it was all part of country life in those days.

My mother used to maintain our flock of chickens by putting down eggs for hatching, usually thirteen ‘in case one didn’t come out’, she used to say, When it was near time for them to hatch out she would bring the eggs indoors and help the chicks out of the cracking shells, lovely little yellow, fluffy creatures. Sometimes there was a black one amongst them which immediately became mine to look after, though I admit the novelty wore off as the bird got older.

In July 1926 our ‘younger’ brother Len was born, this completed our family of three boys. Father was working close by with his steam roller these days, so he was with us all the time; as a matter of fact for a couple of weeks he was working on the road that ran past our house. Later on however his work took him further afield and he had to live in a caravan he towed behind the engine; we then only saw him at weekends. We all used to walk along the road towards Minety station to meet him off the train on Saturday afternoons.

Harry and I used to play happily together in the garden, exploring the mysteries of the parts still dominated by long grass and brushwood which towered around us as we tunnelled through it and built secret hiding places in the alder thickets. Sometimes the unforgiving stinging nettles would send us running to Mother until we learned that a large dock leaf gave almost instant relief.

All this was soon to change for me however; these tranquil uncomplicated days were about to give way to a whole new experience, I was going into the outside world on my own for the first time. I was five years old; it was time for me to start school.

The nearest school was at Minety, a village some two and a half miles distance from our house. The only way to get there was to walk! There was no school bus in those days. For the first few days I was transported on the carrier of mother’s bicycle, then arrangements were made with the other children passing our house from outlying places to care for me until I was old enough to take care of myself.

Minety School consisted of two classrooms, and the schoolhouse where Miss Ellis the Headmistress lived. Miss Ellis was a daunting, stern, matronly person who found it no trouble at all to maintain control and discipline over her flock. She taught the ‘Big Ones’. Our other teacher was Miss Taylor. She was younger, prim and slim; her parents owned the stationery and printing business in Lower Minety. She was in charge of the infants; it was in her care I was placed on that first day.

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Early days were confusing and a bit lonely, I missed home and mother. Miss Taylor read stories to us, and we cut out paper figures, and drew on slates with coloured crayons. But worst of all we were totally unprepared for the battlefield conditions prevailing in the playground at playtime. There were children of all shapes and sizes, lusty kids, there was always plenty of shouting, sometimes quarrelling and sometimes fighting.

There is a saying that all children are born savages and have to be tamed. This would seem to be borne out by the activities in the playground and on the way to and from school. In the home and the classroom efforts were made to civilise us, but elsewhere we reverted to Nature. For no reason at all it seemed one could be sought out and set upon to be humiliated, ridiculed or teased in some form or other; they might run off with your hat, or worse you could be ‘run’, this meant you were chased by a howling pack until you were caught, dragged down and ‘roughed up’. You might shout ‘I’ll tell on you’, but you never did, or you would get it all again. If you told your Mother the answer would likely be, ‘You must have asked for it’, the rule being that parents didn’t interfere in children’s quarrels. If you were small or passive you soon learned to avoid confrontation.

In the more peaceful areas of the playground games were played amongst twos and threes. You made friends to play with and were invited to take part, and then things didn’t seem so bad after all. It might have been harsh at times, especially in the early days, but we survived it all.

I began to settle into the routine of schooldays. We graduated from slates and crayon to pencil and paper, and then to scratching away laboriously with pen and ink, any amount of crossed nibs and ink blots until at last we began to master the art of ‘joined up writing’. We learned spelling, writing, reading, history, geography, arithmetic and nature study. We sat at long desks, accommodating six or eight of us, the seats of which were hinged so that we could raise them and shuffle in and out to take our places. There was an inkwell to each place, filled each day by the ink monitor from a pint-sized earthenware jar. Book monitors gave out books each day for each subject, and collected them and put them away in the cupboard again when the lesson was finished.

I don’t remember when we moved from the infants to the ‘Big Ones’, but whilst Miss Ellis now took us for most lessons, Miss Taylor still used to take us for nature study. I liked this lesson, especially when she took us on nature walks out into the surrounding countryside, leaving her charge of infants in the care of some of the big girls.

We wandered in the warm sunshine searching out and gathering species of flowers and grasses which were to be a special study on the day. Miss Taylor brought to our attention the wonders of nature with such enthusiasm and knowledge that I’m sure it must have been her favourite subject. On our return the flowers and grasses would be arranged in jars and placed on a shelf and window-sill to join the daffodil and crocus bowls and the hyacinth bulbs growing on the top of water-filled milk bottles.

Our daily chanting of arithmetic tables went on until we knew them off by heart. Some of us suspected we were not as bright as some others in the class, nevertheless we battled on trying to absorb and hopefully making progress. Balance was restored with the enjoyment of one’s favourite subject and the praise received for something well done, for there had to be at least one thing each of us was good at.

In winter a cast iron stove, the only form of heating in the classroom, was a glowing tube of comfort, too hot for those near it, but a providing a modicum of warmth for the rest of us. Its top was decorated with a picture of a tortoise around which were the words, ‘slow but sure’. It breathed out acrid fumes when coke rattled down its throat. From time to time great clinkers had to be noisily pried out of its inside with a poker. Around the stove was a huge safety guard on which our wet clothing was draped on rainy days.

It never occurred to us that two and a half miles each way to and from school was rather a long way, some of the children had even further to go. We didn’t know any different, we all had to get there the best way we could.

Life was at more of a steady pace in those days, there was very little traffic on the roads and except in winter, when we might get a move on, we took our time about the long walk. There were distractions, like the pear tree in front of Cole’s farm; it grew those delicious little yellow pears, we just couldn’t get past that gateway. The tree stood alongside the driveway halfway to the house, there was no cover, and we just dashed the twenty yards or so, hurriedly gathered up a handful of the fallen pears, hoping we didn’t have one with a wasp in it! We scurried off as fast as our legs would carry us, down the road a piece and there sat at the roadside, munching away with great relish, I don’t know what variety they were but they were the best pears I’ve ever tasted. One day however, things didn’t go quite to plan, we had made the dash and were within striking distance of the tree when out of the house came Mrs Cole, we stopped in our tracks, wheeled and were about to make a hasty retreat when a voice called to us, there was something about her tone, friendly and reassuring, we waited as she approached, smiling she handed me a bag of pears, they had been hand picked from the tree, not a blemish on them. We could only think they were a reward for not being greedy, somehow though we never felt the same about dashing in to help ourselves after that.

We watched out for the Tomkins and Barrett Confectionery van on its way to deliver at Moss’s shop, and on the way to school we peered through the shop window to see if there was anything new. A favourite was Sherbet Dabs, a triangular packet containing a tube of liquorice to suck the sherbet through.

We didn’t receive pocket money regularly each week, or anything like that, we collected a few coppers here and there, running errands or perhaps there would be a few coins pressed into our hands by departing relatives, which helped to swell the meagre contents of our money boxes, we were usually saving up for something or other, we spent very little on sweets actually. Mother sometimes gave us a treat by making her own version of toffee, it seemed to take a long time to prepare and longer still for it to set, but it was soon devoured.

Muffled in coats and scarves, with our satchels–often stuffed with all sorts of objects besides our sandwiches, slung over our shoulders, we clomped along the wintry road to school in heavy boots, the soles of which were protected with hobnails, blakeys and metal tips. Often these soles outlived the uppers!

We had no homework, no school dinners and no school milk at that time. But we did have cod liver oil, a white, fishy tasting liquid spooned out to us from a huge jar. I hated it, it made me sick. I worried day and night at having to take the stuff, so much so that finally mother had a word with the teacher and it was agreed that I could have cod liver oil and malt at home. This was quite a different thing altogether, I loved it and my troubles were over.

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I don’t remember our having an Open Day, nor was there a parent-teacher association. Parents were not consulted unless their children stayed away from school or were found to have vermin in their hair. The school nurse came at regular intervals and one of her tasks was to inspect our heads. We were marched a few at a time into the room where the nurse looked through our hair, using a fine-toothed comb, which she dipped in a bowl of carbolic! If she found anything you were given a card to take home where you were given the same treatment of combing, with a comb dipped in vinegar, until you were given a clean bill of health once more.

We had a punishment book kept by Miss Ellis the Headmistress, if you were really naughty you were sent to her for the cane and to have your name written in red ink in the punishment book, which was a disgrace really and usually outlasted the stinging pain in the palm of your hand.

By now I was settling down to the routine of school. Whilst we looked forward to the evenings and weekends when we could pursue our own interests, there were things at school that we actually enjoyed doing! Things like handicraft, we made cane baskets and the like, a bit tough on the fingers at first, weaving the stubborn cane until you got the hang of it, soaking the cane beforehand for instance, eventually though we began to turn out some respectable results, as we did with raffia work, and the girls with their needlework. Reward came our way when our work was selected for exhibition at the local Minety Flower Show each year.

Dancing around the Maypole: I had mixed feelings about that, it was too easy to make mistakes, and the result was there for all to see, a tangle of ribbons wrapped around the pole instead of a neat pattern. You felt such a fool, especially if it was your fault!

Every summer the gypsies came, they appeared overnight, their horse-drawn caravans on the banks of the stream in the same meadow about a mile from out house.

I don’t think the farmer was too pleased, you couldn’t blame him for being a bit apprehensive really, he wasn’t to know if they were intending to make it a permanent site. But these people never caused any trouble; they didn’t do any damage or leave a lot of rubbish around, so he never moved them on.

These gypsies were the traditional Romanys; they didn’t stay long in one place, as a matter of fact. We youngsters often wondered what happened to them when they moved on.

Some gypsies lived in houses, but not around our part of the country. Usually it was obvious where they lived because all around the house there was rubbish, or what to us folk looked like rubbish, but the gypsies somehow made money out of the old rags, scrap-iron and the like. Many of these people were not as poor as they looked.

Most families had a horse and cart with which they scoured the surrounding countryside for rags, bones, bottles and anything else they could buy for a few pence and also anything they could ‘pick up’ for nothing. But this sort of life was too humdrum for the true gypsies, like those camped near us.

A gypsy was heard to say: ‘You know what the book says, and we don’t, but we know other things that are not in books, and that’s what we have, it’s ours, our own, and you can’t know it.’ This is no doubt true, although we are not unaware of his knowledge, it is probably a form of cunning, the cunning of the wild animal, plus an instinct and a touch of something we don’t understand. He is as free as the fox, not just the glamorised phrase like, ‘the wind in his face’, more the fascination of lawlessness, pitting his wits against everyone, including the Game Keeper, Farmer and even the Law.

As we passed by on our way to school we could see the children at play around the caravans, the older folk squatting around the smoking camp fire, prodding the contents of the cooking pot hung over it, which most likely contained rabbit stew; these people were past-masters of living off the land. The caravans were beautifully finished on the outside, with intricate decorative designs, we heard that the interiors were kept spick and span too with polished brasswork, and homely, with lace curtains, varnished woodwork and ornaments.

The horses grazed contentedly nearby whilst the menfolk were industriously making clothes pegs, skinning the bark from hazel shafts, splitting them down the middle and trimming them to about six inches in length and then fastening the two halves together with a thin band of tin taped in place about an inch from one end. These were the standard clothes pegs used widely at this time, before the modern spring type. The finished pegs were slipped onto a hazel stick in batches of a dozen or so.

The gypsy women and their daughters came calling door to door around the village, wearing coloured headscarves, long skirts to the ground, laced shoes, and with shawls around their shoulders, wicker baskets on one arm contained clothes pegs, dusters and small bunches of ‘lucky’ heather. When you opened the door to them, they usually started by telling your ‘fortune’, the aura of mystery surrounding these people helped to convince you they could see into the future, mind you, they usually told you things you wanted to hear. You usually bought something.

Another aspect of the gypsy life of course was their ability to self treat many ailments with their own concoctions, medicines and potions. My wife once told me that when she was a young girl and suffering from a throat infection an old gypsy woman living nearby made up some medicines for her, which seemed to prove successful. After all many modern day drugs and medicines are produced from natural sources, and the gypsy lived close to nature, so why shouldn’t he know such things?

We kids were a little uneasy about approaching the gypsies, they were a mysterious people, they seemed so self-sufficient, and independent, and why didn’t the children have to go to school like the rest of us? After all, if we were absent from school for a certain length of time Mr Seager, the Attendance Officer, called at your home to find out the reason, and wrote about us in his book. We envied the gypsy children for this reason; we also wondered where they went in the winter time when the weather was cold.

Sometimes we ventured as close as we dared, and peered at them through the bars of the gate leading into the field. The children stopped playing to gaze back at us, how wonderful if we could have mixed with them and shared experiences, but that is as far as it ever got, and then suddenly one day they were no longer there.

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The stream passed under the road hereabouts, during the summer months it meandered on its leisurely way, babbling over the stony bottom, in places it slowed to almost still pools.

In winter, after heavy storms it was a different story, transformed into a raging torrent it seethed and foamed swirling under the bridge, overflowed its banks and sometimes flooded the road. At such times, when confronted with this on our way to school, we would make our way home again and exaggerate the depth of water to mother in the hope that we wouldn’t have to go to school, usually this was to no avail for mother used to get out her bicycle and accompany us back to the flooded road, and provided it wasn’t too deep, ferry us, one at a time, across on the carrier of her bike.

One day, further along the road on our way to school, we came upon a huge lorry carrying a tramcar. It turned into a nearby field, where the tram was unloaded and manoeuvred into position. It had no wheels and was placed on large blocks clear of the ground. We were quite mystified by all this but had to hurry on because stopping to watch had made us late for school.

A day or so later a second tram arrived in the same way and was duly placed alongside the first.

We didn’t know at the time but the trams came from Swindon where the tramway system was being disbanded. The trams were being disposed of and the tracks ripped up from the roadway.

A Mr. and Mrs. Keen had bought the trams and began to convert them into a home for themselves. During the following months a transformation took place and eventually, as it neared completion, and with roses around the front door, few people would have realized without close inspection that this quaint little bungalow had started out as two tramcars.

A regular visitor to our parts was a happy-go-lucky ‘Gentleman of the Road,’ a tramp father used to call ‘Happy Jack’ because he was always singing. We would awake one morning and hear his voice wafting to us from the thicket across the way, where he always made camp, and we knew he had arrived once more. Dad used to say ‘Happy Jack’s back!’ He only stayed for a couple of days, and was no trouble to anyone. As was usual, he would turn up on our doorstep and ask if we could spare a spoonful of tea for his billy-can, and amble off with his billy-can brimming with steaming hot tea, to be followed a little later by Dad taking an egg, a bit of bacon and some bread.

Blue smoke from his fire drifted up from the thicket accompanied by the smell of frying breakfast, as Dad sat and yarned with him awhile. And then, a couple of mornings later, there was no sign of him; like the Gypsies, he had moved on.

Summer was a lovely time for us, especially weekends when father came home on those occasions when he was working away from home. We went for walks in the surrounding countryside to our favourite place, ‘Old Parks’, which became a glorious yellow when the gorse was in bloom. Sometimes it was in bloom as early as April or May if there had been a mild winter, and sometimes it went on into June.

The sun beat down on us in the hot stillness; there was little or no breeze among the tall gorse and hazel. We children darted about among the bushes, hiding in the tall grass, and stopping to watch in fascination the bees busy visiting the bell-shaped flowers of the tall foxgloves.

Rabbits scurried away on our approach to sit bolt upright a little way off, and then disappear down their burrows. It was so peaceful, the only sounds other than us children chattering were the sounds of nature–the call of the wood pigeon or pheasant over in the nearby woods, the rising song of the skylark soaring into the sky, moments later to flutter earthwards, whereupon we dashed to the spot hoping to find its nest, but with no success because the skylark seldom comes to earth close to the nest; when we arrived at the spot there was no sign of the bird, it had scurried away unseen to where its nest lay some distance away.

On our way we always gathered something or other, like the delicately beautiful grasses including the wild oat, and flowers–there were so many–violets, primroses, cowslip, and moon daisies, a nice selection between us for Mum to arrange in vases and place around the house.

Bamfords No 7 RTC Tractor Drawn Finger Bar Mower © Viève Forward

Bamfords No 7 RTC Tractor Drawn Finger Bar Mower © Viève Forward

Haymaking was heralded in with the clattering of mowing machines at work in the fields.

Grass for hay is ready for mowing in about June or July at which time it can be anything up to three feet high, depending on the species of grass. The tall waving grasses, like cocksfoot, meadow fescue and tall fescue grew as tall as our waists. It was now that we stayed out of fields down to mowing grass, except perhaps to walk around against the fence of hedge so as not to trample down the grass, making it difficult for the mower to cut. The farmer favours something like six grasses: the fescues, cocksfoot, ryegrass, Timothy grass and Tor grass.

Grass is very important to the farmer; it feeds his livestock all the year round – as grazing for at least seven months and hay for the rest of the year. Near the farms there were usually one or two permanent pastures for grazing calves and ponies; those were known as paddocks or meadows. Like the gardener, the farmer hates one type of grass and that’s common couch, which develops a pervasive underground system and spreads rapidly, choking other plants. Chalk and limestone grassland have several characteristic species, two of these are easily recognised, common quaking grass–I remember these, they had purplish green flowers which danced in the breeze – and Tor grass, which forms large yellow-green circular patches. Mixed in with the grass were yarrow, plantain, dandelion, buttercups and moon daisies, and close to the ground, the thick white clover.

In one of the fields down from our house, two Shires, pulling the mower, plodded steadily, heads tossing, side by side around a square of standing grass, gradually working towards the centre of the field. They knew what was required of them, with little or no command from Walt Denly who was riding the mower. With reins held loosely he gave an occasional glance ahead, but his attention was mainly focused on the chattering blade, slicing through the grass which fell away in a neat swathe behind the machine.

He stopped occasionally to clear tangled grass from the guide board, or to remove the toothed blade for sharpening. He did this by clamping it to the top of the five-barred gate leading to the field and set about the task with a file, somewhat like sharpening a saw.

At mid-day he stopped, unhitched the horses and led them to the shade of a tree, and when satisfied they were munching contentedly he sat down in the shade and from his rush basket took the white ‘Tommy cloth’ in which there were wrapped the top of a cottage loaf, a piece of cheese and a raw onion, and began to eat, paring off each mouthful with a large pocket knife. He drank cold tea from his bottle now and then.

With his meal finished he took out his pipe and began filling it from his tobacco pouch and when it was going well he just sat silently gazing across the meadow, drawing on his pipe held comfortably in one hand, a study of contentment. One wonders just what thoughts were passing through his mind during these quiet interludes.

It is surprising when you think back on the hard life and poverty which existed in those far off days. The way people accepted it, most were content with their lot, and made no effort to better themselves–not that there was much chance of bettering themselves, there always seemed enough jobs to go around – usually it was a case of the younger generation taking over from their parents. They were born into a certain way of life, and a certain type of work, and were in fact very skilled workers.

Soon it was time to get back to work, the horses were hitched up and the clattering of the mower could be heard again.

When it came time to finish for the day, sometimes quite late–for daylight and good weather had to be taken advantage of–the horses were unhitched from the mower which was left in the field. If it wasn’t too late, we children waited for Walt to come along, for if we were lucky we were given a ride on the horses. It was a long way up, but with Walt’s help we were eventually sitting astride the broad back, and then with us hanging on under the watchful eye of the carter, the great Shires clopped their steady way back to the farm. These magnificent animals were used extensively on the farm in those days; the tractor hadn’t as yet come to take their place. These we were perched on were Shires, strong and steady, with dark brownish-black coats, legs feathered, white blaze and white feet–proud animals, descendants of the great horse of England, standing some sixteen hands.

A hand is about four inches, so we were perched some five feet from the ground on the rolling backs of these animals.

CLOATLEY END 07

For most of their history horses have not been farm animals; they were used as war horses, especially after the stirrup was introduced in the 10th Century. They pulled chariots and then carts, and were beasts of burden before farmers started using them for ploughing and harrowing.

It was not until the early 18th Century that horses replaced the oxen for farming purposes. The horse is valuable and has to be carefully looked after if it is to remain fit for work. This not only means housing it and feeding it but also protecting it from sickness and, in olden days, protecting it from evil. To do the latter, charms were fixed to the harness. The brasses, which are still used to decorate the harness, are the modern descendants of these primitive charms. Favourite designs are the sun, moon and stars; others include crops, such as wheat sheaf, and a bell to make a noise to frighten away evil spirits. A fly terret is worn on the head to replace a plume.

The three other main breeds of heavy horses seen on British farms, besides the Shires, are: the Suffolk Punch, broad with short unfeathered legs and short mane, colour is usually chestnut; the Clydesdale, short in the back with powerful quarters and strong legs, feet are well feathered and it usually has a white blaze, also used to draw brewers’ wagons or draughts; and the Percheron, which has short legs, and powerful quarters. All four of these heavy horses stand at least 16 hands.

Two other horses found on the farm are cobs and hacks; these are not breeds but good sturdy riding horses used by the farmers for general purpose riding including the rounds of his farm, inspecting crops, stock and fences etc.

The work horse did a wide variety of tasks on the farm including ploughing, harrowing and rolling, hauling wagons, carts, mowing machines, binders and hay working machinery.

As the mowing machine reduced the area of standing grass there was a good chance that rabbits, partridge and perhaps a pheasant would be hidden there. Soon the birds would fly out but the rabbits would move inwards towards the middle until trapped in the very last remaining stand of grass. Knowing this, some of the local folk and farm hands gathered round and knocked over the rabbits with sticks, or whatever came to hand, as they finally made a bolt for it. Rabbit stew contributed in no small way to the staple diet among the country folk in those days.

Because there are often storms at this time of year, getting the hay cut, dried, and into ricks or barns was usually a race against the elements. The drying process was speeded up by turning the grass to give maximum exposure to air and sun. After further drying the hay was then turned into rows ready for picking up by the hay-loading machine which was towed along the rows behind the hay wagon. The wagons had ladders at the front and back, about ten feet high, and the man riding on the wagon placed the hay until the wagons were fully loaded up to the top of the ladders. The loader was then hitched off and the loaded wagon proceeded either to ricks at the edge of the field, or to the farmyard to be unloaded onto ricks or into the barn. There would be a procession of these wagons to and from the hayfield. The wagons and carts used on the farm varied in shape and size depending on their use.

Two wheeled carts are thought to have been in use for over 3,000 years. The main type used at this time were tipping carts which were a great labour saving arrangement since all loading and unloading had to be done by hand.

In the main, carts and wagons were constructed of timber–ash for the shafts and elm for the panelling and wheel hubs. Wheel spokes were made from oak and the ash rims were bound with iron bands.

They were constructed such that all parts interlocked and could be removed for repair or replacement. The wheels were dished or concave, like a saucer, with the hollow side outwards. This was for two reasons, one, to keep the top half of the wheel away from the body so that the sides could be sloped outwards, thus allowing a larger load carrying capacity, and second, when a loaded cart is in motion the body slides from side to side in rhythm to the horses gait with the result that it batters the centre of the wheels; disking counteracts this and prevents the wheels from breaking up.

My Uncle Len and Auntie Ethel used to come to stay with us about this time each year. They lived in Gloucester and usually stayed with us for a couple of weeks or so. All of us used to spend a great deal of our time in the hayfields, mainly helping to clear up the last of the hay left behind by the loading machine. We raked it up using long handled, wooden rakes, and then forked it into huge haycocks five or six feet tall, ready for collection. It was hot, dusty work, hayseeds in the throat and inside the clothes. We didn’t get paid for the work, we enjoyed doing it and it helped farmer Greenslade. One thing was available however, and very welcome to the adults, that was the cider. The earthenware jars containing it were placed in the coolest spots–ditches or hedge bottoms where the workers knew where to find them.

Cider is the fermented juice of apples. The skin of a ripe apple bears many yeast plants, these ferment and turn the sugar in the apples into alcohol when they are crushed. Cider usually contains four to five per cent of alcohol by volume. This is rather potent stuff, and has been known to have spectacular results on many an individual who has underestimated its qualities. I don’t remember seeing any of the workers the worse for drinking it though, not in the hayfields that is.

The art of cider making is apparently in the blending of the different varieties of apples. Farmer Greenslade had quite a large orchard and each year we used to see the cider making machine set up in the farmyard. It consisted of a circular trough round which a horse would be driven pulling a sort of mill-stone rolling around in the trough which crushed the apples and the juice would run out of a chute below into the containers. This liquid was then allowed to ferment and eventually it was placed in the stone jars which I believe were in two sizes, one gallon and two gallons. Some farmers produced more than their own requirements and the surplus was sold locally.

CLOATLEY END 08

Once the grass had been cut in the fields it was the sign that we children could once more go into them to play, for the so called ‘Country Code’ was second nature to us. We knew better than to trample down mowing grass or any other growing crops.

After the haymaking was over it wasn’t long before the hazel nuts were ripening. Although it never grows to much more than a bush, many acres of hazel coppice used to be grown in the southern part of England in the old days. About every seven years it was cut back after which it sent up a mass of shoots which form into branches.

There are many uses for hazel, including pea sticks, bean poles, small stakes and clothes props, spars and curved broaches or pegs used to secure thatch on the roofs of cottages, or corn or hay ricks. The long boughs were split into thin wands and woven between stakes to made hurdles. Hazel can survive for centuries and could be found along woodland rides and especially in hedgerows.

In February large catkins like lambs’ tails form and in the autumn the flowers ripen into groups of two or three large, round nuts. Some of the nuts are taken by squirrels, this is mainly in the woodland areas, but in the hedgerows they survive long enough to be picked or to finally fall to the ground. We used to go ‘nutting’, armed with walking sticks with which to pull down the branches within reach. Although a great many of the fields around us were bounded by dry stone walls, there were still a lot of hedgerows.

Returning home we dumped our collection of nuts onto the table and set about shucking them. Some we stored away for Christmas.

Uncle really enjoyed these times; I can still see his suntanned face, his easy smile and remember too the enthusiastic way he entered into all our activities. Uncle and my father could sometimes be heard swapping yarns in the front room, peals of laughter could be heard, tears streamed down Uncle’s face. Mother would say to Auntie in the kitchen: ‘Hark at them, whatever are they talking about?’ Each year Aunt and Uncle took one of us boys back with them to their home at Gloucester for two weeks holiday, an event looked forward to all year!

Sometimes mother would take us to visit our grandparents at the Garsdon Brickyard, a walk of some three miles from Hankerton. Usually we went on a weekend when my father wasn’t able to get home.

Setting out on Saturday we stayed overnight. As said many times, everything seemed to move at a leisurely pace in those days, one set off with no real fixed time of arrival in mind. We took the pram for Len, he being quite young still, even for me it was a long walk, so Harry and I used to get a ride on the pram in turn.

Meeting anyone was something of an event and didn’t just mean the passing of the time of day, there would be lots of news to catch up with between adults. One day we had gone barely half a mile when we came upon a rather harrowing scene.

Four cows lay dead in the field alongside the road, having been struck by lightning not long before our arrival. They had been standing near a tall elm tree, we could see where the lightning had struck the tree, and one of its largest branches had been split away from the main trunk and was hanging towards the ground.

On our way we passed through the village of Charlton, another of those picturesque villages changed little by the passage of time. Charlton and other neighbouring hamlets and farms were part of Charlton Park Estate which dates from the time of James I.

In Georgian times the interior of Charlton Park house had been redesigned, I understand by the Adams brothers. Built originally by the Countess of Suffolk it was for some time the seat of the Knyvett family. During the Plague of London the Poet Dryden stayed there. Charles Howard, the 20th Earl of Suffolk, was heir to the family seat at Charlton Park. He was the eldest son of one of the oldest families in England. Although one of the landed gentry he seemed quite unconcerned with his title. He dressed eccentrically and smoked cigarettes in a long holder, and according to my mother and other members of my family, he liked nothing more than to be with working people. A foreman working on his Estate for 41 years said he was one of the finest men he had ever known.

During World War II the Earl became one of the country’s leading experts on bomb disposal. Tragically he was killed, along with other members of his team, whilst attempting to defuse a particularly notorious type of German bomb in 1941.

If one ignored the modern intrusion one could be easily transported back in time by just looking at the buildings: the groups of stone cottages with their stone tiled roofs, the period residences and especially the farm house dating from the late 17th Century with its triple gables and stone mullioned windows–in fact one half expects a coach and horses to come swinging to a halt in front of the local hostelry ‘The Horse and Groom’ a little further along the road leading out of Charlton.

The whole of this area is enhanced by the wooded scenery. Some two miles to the east is Braydon Pond, the largest lake in Wiltshire. Approximately four miles to the south-east lies the village of Brinkworth, which, like Garsdon, also has a link with America. Situated in beautiful wooded countryside with the Marlborough Downs to the south and the Cotswolds to the west, it has a Church dating from the 15th Century which contains a wealth of treasure from the past, including traces of medieval wall paintings, a Jacobean pulpit and other furnishings, and there was a font, which I believe is over five hundred years old.

Penns Lodge, now a farmhouse, once belonged to the family of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. We were leaving Charlton by way of the Malmesbury – Minety road. The old Manor here used to belong to Malmesbury Abbey; the Lords of the Manor were the Penn family.

Minety Church is early English like many of the others in the hamlets and villages, and contains splendid examples of medieval carving, Jacobean wood carving and evidence of Saxon times.

CLOATLEY END 09

We turned off the main Minety road and after about a mile descended the steep hill to the brickyard on the outskirts of Garsdon village. My Grandparents had worked the brickyard since 1896. Until the turn of the century brick making was widespread on a small scale such as this, each area producing distinctive coloured bricks and other products from its local clay. It wasn’t unusual to find disused clay pits and remains of those beehive-shaped kilns in later years.

I think about twelve men worked at the brickyard in his heyday, turning out bricks, tiles, flower pots, drain pipes and various sizes of urns. The huge beehive shaped kiln dominated the scene; we youngsters were kept well away from it, so it took on an air of mystery. There are two types of kiln, those in which the material comes into actual contact with the flames and those in which the furnace is beneath or surrounding the oven. Lime kilns are of the first type and brick kilns of the second. The material, bricks etc., were stacked in the middle of the kiln and fires lit around, stoked from the outside through fire holes.

Red brick dust was everywhere, all over the ground and even along the driveway leading to the road, that’s what I remember most about the place–the red driveway. The clay was wheeled from the clay pit going back into the hillside at the back of the bungalow. When the clay finally ran out in the early 30s this great scar in the hillside, being little use for cultivation, reverted to nature and became overgrown with ash and elder, and was known as ‘The Batters’, why I never did find out. In later years even the kiln had ash saplings growing on top of it.

It was the family home until 1935, by which time my grandfather had died and grandmother was not enjoying good health and so she went to live with one of my Aunts.

Life had been hard in the early years, everything was done by hand, there being little or no machinery to ease their lot, even the drinking water had to be carried from a well at the top of the hill. I never quite understood why the water was at the top of the hill! Uncle Ted used to carry two buckets at a time on yokes.

The bungalow, home for my mother and her sisters and brother, was a picture. Built part brick and part stone with a tiled roof, its walls were a mass of climbing roses. The garden was full of vegetables and flowers, all surrounded by a dry stone wall with large pillars at the gateway, surrounded by decorative urns overflowing with flowers.

Grandfather was a tough old countryman; he wore a collarless shirt, cord trousers, a waistcoat with a watch chain draped across it from pocket to pocket, and a trilby hat. His eyes were a twinkling blue/grey and he had a walrus moustache. Grandmother was as small and frail as grandfather was big and tough; her appearance belied her ability however, for she brought up a large family.

One day, I was playing in the garden on my own, and I happened to look up, there in the sky, coming towards me, was this huge shape, for a moment or two I just stood there petrified, then I ran indoors, gasped, ‘there’s a big fish coming’. Grandmother and my mother chorused, ‘there’s a what?’ ‘A big fish, and it’s coming straight for us’. They looked at me mystified, and then followed me into the garden. They gazed upward in awe, it was the airship R100, a most impressive sight, as it would be even today. At that time there were only two of these giant machines, the other being the R101 later to be lost in a terrible tragedy. We all stayed to watch until it was a mere speck in the sky. There were few aeroplanes to be seen then, as a matter of fact I can only remember seeing one up until that time.

Horse drawn vehicles still outnumbered any motor traffic on the roads; one could go days without seeing a motor car, and then they were almost always commercial vehicles, like the baker, or Mr Frisby the draper from Malmesbury, or the United Dairies lorry picking up the milk churns from the milk stands outside the farm. The general carriers were still using horse and wagon. Mr Cooper from Hankerton was a familiar sight passing our house on his way to Minety station.

The steam roller my father drove for the Wiltshire County Council was more than just a job to him, as usually is the case with engine drivers. He tended it, cleaned it, sometimes had to coax it, and polished the copper and brass work with great affection. Any family with a steam engine will understand what I mean. Engine drivers are a breed apart, dedicated to their charges, and although very young, I sensed this. My father’s job took him all over the county, wherever there was work on the roads going on that needed the roller. It can be said, I suppose, that my father contributed in some small way to the development and maintenance of the highways in that part of the country during those years. He was accompanied by his mate, one Ted Harding, a kind man. A close companionship existed between my father and this man; a mutual understanding had built up between them.

These were tough times, travelling between jobs, towing a caravan in which they lived when working too far away to be able to travel home. During the weekdays the roller was kept fired up and just damped down each night. Of course the working week in those days included Saturday mornings, so this left little time to travel home for the weekends. Most of the other workers were local council employees brought together to form a team of sufficient strength to man the job in question. Some weeks before the work was due to start, materials, such as stone chippings and barrels of tar, would be delivered by lorry, some of which were steam powered lorries like those my father used to drive before he took over the steam roller.

These great lorries tipped both sideways and rearwards, thus facilitating the depositing of the loads of stone along the roadside. A horse-drawn water barrel kept up a continuous supply of water for the roller and for spraying on the roadwork, the water being drawn from nearby streams or ponds. The other important piece of equipment was the tar pot. It looked much like an old steam engine with its long circular boiler mounted on a four wheel chassis with a smoke stack at one end. The barrels of tar were lifted on top of the boiler with the aid of the built in hoist, the boiler filled with tar, and heated by the fire box beneath. The hot tar was then sprayed onto the road via hosepipes and a nozzle. The stone chippings were shovelled over the tar and the roller firmed down the surface. The whole scene would be shrouded in steam, smoke, dust and the strong smell of tar. This was road surface maintenance, sometimes there would be major repairs or even new roads to build. Sometimes the great teeth of the scarifier on the rear of the roller would be called for to break up the surface of the road; it was then that the job took on a much heavier nature, especially when there were huge granite blocks to be set in place to form the foundations.

When Dad came home he brought with him a lingering aroma of the steam engine in his working clothes which mother set aside for wash day.

CLOATLEY END 10

Monday was usually washday; Mother collected all the dirty clothes and sorted them out. The copper in the wash house was filled with water from the well, and the fire lit beneath it. Soda was added as the water boiled and all the whites were put in, and covered by the wooden lid. Occasionally the wooden lid would be moved back and the steaming mass stirred with a wooden copper stick. After about half an hour or more the boiling clothes were lifted out with the stick onto the upturned lid and left to drain. The whole place was overwhelmed with steam and the smell of boiling washing. The dirty water was bailed out of the boiler into buckets with the ‘copper bowl’, a small bowl with a long wooden handle. The copper was again filled with water and the whole process repeated for the rest of the washing. Meanwhile the galvanized bath was filled with clean water and the washing rinsed, wrung out and hung on the washing line. Hard work indeed, little wonder that so many women looked old before their time, this one day alone was an exhausting one for not only was there washing to be done but the children had to be looked after and meals prepared.

Once I remember we were lucky when father came to work on the road that ran past our house. It was before I started school so I must have been about four years of age. I was taken down the road to where he was working. Ted Harding lifted me up to my father, who placed me down on the footplate, he soon lifted me up again however for I was lost down in the well, I couldn’t see much and it was very hot from the fire box. I took hold of the steering wheel, and my father opened the throttle a little so that the steam surged and the smoke chuffed out of the stack. I was overwhelmed with excitement, and have never forgotten those moments.

Sometimes when the travelling fairs came to the Minety Flower Show, we children would be taken along for a treat. Father could usually be found among the show engines which provided the electrical power for all the rides, stalls and hundreds of light bulbs. These men were in their element; the great engines, brass and copper gleaming, rocked backwards and forwards, shrouded in steam.

It was about this time that it came to my turn to go back to Gloucester with Uncle Len and Auntie Ethel for a two week holiday after their stay with us. Uncle had a motor cycle and sidecar. Aunt Ethel rode in the sidecar with Tiny, their wired haired terrier, on her lap and their luggage strapped on the back. Imagine how cramped we were with both myself and Tiny sat on Auntie’s lap, I just don’t know how we did it. I carried a large tin of sunflower seeds for Auntie’s parrot, it had become a contest between us boys to see who could grow the tallest sunflower and, when ripe, to cut them down like trees, to collect the seeds and dry them ready for Auntie to take back with her.

To a chorus of ‘good bye’ and the barking of Tiny the dog, Uncle banged the hand change gear lever into first, opened the throttle lever and we were off. The wide, curved handle bars started that yawing motion those old motor cycle combinations used to do as they gathered speed. Soon we were humming along at a steady pace, there was little or no conversation between us for the noise of the engine and wind made it almost impossible. It was all very exciting for me since the only mode of transport I had experienced up till then was the pram or the carrier on the back of Mum’s bicycle. There was little traffic on the roads in those days so for Uncle Len it was a case of concentrating on negotiating the undulating, winding road, passing villages like Crudwell and Kemble and through the historical town of Cirencester and out onto the Gloucester road. I don’t remember if this was the actual route we took, but one thing I do remember and that was Birdlip Hill; as young as I was I had heard of this notoriously steep hill. Perhaps I had heard my father talk about it, or perhaps one of my uncles. My father once had a narrow escape when the steam lorry and trailer loaded with stone he was driving went out of control and overturned here. One was aware that caution had to be exercised. Uncle slowed down, selected a lower gear and we started down, the high revving engine helping the brakes to hold us to a reasonable speed. I don’t know if Auntie was at all apprehensive, Uncle was no doubt relaxing a little when we were safely down and soon entering Gloucester.

I spent happy days here; the town was a new experience for me. Uncle took us fishing on the banks of the canal. Sometimes it rained but Uncle didn’t seem to mind, he said the fish would be biting. At such times Auntie and I sat in the tent, she busy knitting and I watched the tugs bringing up barges laden with timber for the Moorlands match factory nearby. It was marvellous how the men manoeuvred the barges when they threw off the tow-rope with enough way on to glide alongside the jetty.

I sat with Uncle at the Gloucester cricket ground and watched some of the great names of the game at play. Balmy summer days, the only sound being that of the ball on bat, an appeal from the wicket keeper or applause from the spectators.

One day I heard Auntie and Uncle talking of the Severn Bore, what was it I wondered? We all went along to the river bank and from the air of expectation among those people already collected there I gathered we were going to see something. There was talk of a tidal wave, and speculation as to how big it might be.

The Severn Bore is a tidal phenomenon of certain rivers. The largest is the one we hoped to see today flooding up the Severn. It occurs when flood tides drive into the wide mouth of an estuary in greater volume than can flow up river, the incoming tide sweeps in as a wall of water which over-rides the slower river flow and rushes noisily upstream. The height is governed by the width and depth of the river and the extent of the tide. It has been known to reach a height of nine feet in midstream and to travel as fast as fifteen miles an hour from Awre to Gloucester, twenty one miles upstream.

And here we were waiting in anticipation, suddenly some one said, ‘here it comes’ and I saw the wall of water and heard its rushing and roaring as the wall of turbulent water some four feet high swept past us. It was an amazing sight, everyone was quite excited, and would be able to say they had actually seen it.

Uncle was back at work at the Moorlands factory, so Auntie took me up town shopping, we went to some of the big stores, the like of which I had never seen before, including the Bon Marche. Auntie bought me a toy engine–a clockwork railway engine, I had no track or other rolling stock, but I treasured it for years afterward.

Too soon the holiday was over and I was back home, telling my mother and brothers all about it.

It was not long after this that the bombshell came. Father was home at the weekend and he and mother were heard talking earnestly. It wasn’t long before I realised what it was about; the Wiltshire County Council had decided to dispense with the steam roller and in future would be hiring any they needed. Father was devastated, I was still too young to fully realise how badly.

Soon we began to see that we should be moving because father had been offered alternative employment with the Council as a lengthman. A lengthman was responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of a given length of highway assigned to him. As yet, however he hadn’t been told where this would be.

I have fond memories of the time we spent at Cloatley End, insignificant as they may appear they remain with me: such as gathering watercress from the favourite spot in one of the nearby streams, and I can still see the splash of yellow of the Golden Chain tree in front of Greenslades Farm just up the road.

Another memory of school days was Ronny Parish–or ‘Froggy’ as he was known, the school clown. He arrived very late for school one morning, not looking his usual self. Apparently he had cheeked the men at work on the road leading to his home; they grabbed him, placed him in a sack and buried him up to his shoulders in a heap of stone chippings at the roadside. Poor Froggy was completely shattered, I felt a little sorry for him.

My best friend was Eric Newman, whom I was to meet years later in another part of the country. His mother was a district nurse and rode about the village and nearby hamlets on her bicycle visiting her patients.

Eric lived at Flisteridge, surrounded by fir trees which we could see from the back of our house. One day we got lost in the countryside when we had set off at lunch time to collect specimens for a forthcoming nature talk. Actually we didn’t get lost–we succumbed to the beautiful sunny day and drowsed on a grassy bank, time passed all too quickly. At half past three we returned to school and were not well received by Miss Ellis and we were duly punished.

Dad had been parted from his beloved steam engine, and shortly he was told where we were going–to Luckington, a village just over seven miles to the south-west of Malmesbury.

01/02/2021