Megan Timbrell has deep roots in Eastington. Coming from a long line of Eastingtonians, she was born in Cress Green and lived there for many years at what is now Cress Green Cattery. Her mother, Mrs Sylvia Bliss, has written down some of her early (and amazingly detailed) memories of life in Eastington. Megan has been typing and collating these and ECN has been printing excerpts for you. Here is the next instalment. This is precious living history, and tells of a time – such a short while ago really – when things were so very very different..
MEMOIR – by Mrs Sylvia Bliss – part 4
The 1920’s to 1930’s were days when we could walk freely around the fields, then thick with moon daises, cornflowers, cowslips, orchids, vetches and many different grasses. The hedgerows were where we picked white violets and primroses and there were dog roses, sloe bushes and crab apple trees. Many of the ponds, trees and hedgerows have now disappeared under new farming methods and new developments A way of life that we once knew is no more, but we have many new amenities now and we are very grateful for them.
As children we didn’t realize the hard life our parents had to endure, the washing in the copper, the irons heated on the fire, the wood to be chopped – that awful black-leading of the grates, the candles and the oil lamps. No cars, no telephones and only a few had electricity, to say nothing of the shed up the garden! Cold sheets, cold bedrooms, the walk to work in all weathers or the cycle ride – I remember the acetylene cycle lamps (one had to spit on the carbide to produce the gas) and what a smell it had!
If it was a wet morning and your coat got soaked on the way to work, it stayed soaked all day and likewise shoes. There was poverty in this village even when I was a child but it was very much worse in my parents day. If the father drank or was unemployed the children as good as starved and couldn’t go to school as they had no shoes. They relied entirely on the help of friends and neighbours (no Family Allowance or Support Groups then or Unemployment Pay).
There were some families where the children went home at midday to bread and lard, school meals had not started then. I believe cups of cocoa were provided at the school for the very poor.
My memories of primary school are patchy, the main event of the year being May Day celebrations always held on 1st May.
The May Queen was chosen by vote of the whole school as were her attendants, 4 girls and 2 boys. I was Maid of Honour in 1929. We carried baskets of flowers and wore white dresses and panama hats. Some of the boys wore satin outfits (like Little Lord Fauntleroy I always thought) with tri-corn hats. The crowning ceremony was performed by the wife of the Headmaster – Mrs Rowbotham. The whole school would then parade around the village dancing at various houses and chosen places where there was enough space to do so. This would last all day, everyone taking time off for lunch to resume again, always at the workhouse, the first call of the afternoon. Back to school the next day, no doubt with aching feet!
The music was provided by boys playing Kazoo’s, a shaped strip of tin with an inset on the top covered with gauze. It sounded like a comb and paper if anyone remembers that now! They blew through it while humming the tune.
Bigger boys carried the Maypole and then held it upright for the dancing. The Spiders Web and the Plait are the ones I remember best. There had been many hours of practice for these complicated manoeuvres.
The teaching and the discipline were good. I especially remember Miss Amy Benfield who really made us work, taking a real interest in all the pupils.
The infant teacher was Miss Watts who had taught at the school for 50 years when she retired in 1953. In the 20’s and 30’s she travelled from Stroud to Stonehouse on the railcar each morning, then walking down the meadows to the school. We all loved her; she was a good old-fashioned no-nonsense teacher but very kind and considerate.
In the 30’s Eastington had a fine football team, which crowds of us supported on Saturday afternoons when they played at home on the field now part of William Morris House.
When they played away, we would cycle to see them at such far-away places at King Stanley, Whiteshill, Frampton on Severn or Saul. I think Nupend too had a football team at the time. When Cup Final Day arrived we would turn up with royal Blue and White ribbon bosses which we had painstakingly made during the week. No showers or baths for the team then, they would change in the Kings Head and trot down to the field. I assume that the visiting team would take their dirty knees home with them (probably cycling).
At that time where were many memorable characters that we knew and felt affection for.
George Baltic was one, always turning up at our door just as we were about to eat at midday on Saturdays, sucking his old clay pipe. He knew my father was a soft touch and would find a bob or two for him to go to the Kings Head.
There was Cocker Woodman and his brother Joe with the dog he boasted to have trained to hide behind the hedge when the local bobby appeared as he had no license for it!
Percy Dyer, with the bad limp, would travel around with the threshing machine owned by Mr Jesse Vines of Hardwicke, from farm to farm standing on the top, cutting the bond of sheaves as they were fed in.
Freddie Kent from the workhouse, a tall man with broad shoulders, but bowed from carrying a yoke and heavy buckets of milk from Mr Reynolds farm at Nupend back to the workhouse.
Mr Betteridge who live at Frampton on Severn but was well known as the carrier of parcels from the LMS railway station through the village, the little horse trotting along pulling the trap.
‘Doughy’ Sadler who made the most delicious batch cakes which we always had for Sunday tea. He baked his bread in his premises behind the shop/off licence in Bath Road (now known as Coppers)
Mr William Powell our milkman for many years, came as Doughy Sadler did on a motorbike and sidecar (Sunday deliveries then)
Bertie Underwood, our local cobbler – he was only about three foot tall and looked like a little gnome. He was the same age as my Mother’s own brothers so they always kept in contact with him. My own children loved him and would go and sit with him in his little shed while he sewed a strap on their sandals or handle on a shopping bag.
I must not miss out my Grandfather, Robert William Shill who from 1911, delivered the Citizen Newspaper around the village. His wife had died at the age of 41 leaving him with seven children, the youngest a baby of a few months. Before there was a newsagent in the village, every evening after his days work at Bonds Mill he would walk to the LMS station at Stonehouse and collect the papers from the 6.00 p.m. train.
He was was paid 2d (old pence) per dozen and the amount of papers each evening was about 7 dozen.
In the winter he carried a candle lantern or, later, a carbide lamp. I can well remember looking out from my home, then at Canal House, to see if he was coming and could see the lamp bobbing about as he come nearer.
Coming nearer to present day, Mr Owen Harris was certainly a character. His appearance (quite deliberate I believe) of being a country yokel was quite untrue as it hid a shrewd brain and a ready wit. He, like a few of us, found it very difficult to accept the inevitable changes that have come to the village.
He did his best to halt the progress by keeping his much loved horse and old farming implements and making good, solid, old fashioned hay ricks. It is not easy to live ones entire life in a village that is changing before your eyes. Sadly, Owen is no longer with us, and for me and I know a number of others, it seemed that the heart of Eastington went with him.