Early Childhood Days
My 1950s Childhood Memories
Following his demobilisation, in February 1946, my father must have been a man on a mission, intent on making up for lost time. My parents married at St. Peters Church Stourton Caundle, just two months later in April 1946 and I was born at Ralph Down Farm in January 1947.
My mother Rosa Palmer was born at Bridge Cottages in the August of 1922. She attended the village primary school and passed the eleven plus examination. Unfortunately my Grandparents could not afford the expense involved for a girl from a working class family to attend a grammar school in the early 1930s so Rosa transferred to Stalbridge School. In 1936 she started work as the clerk, working alongside the Postmaster, Mr Newing, at Stalbridge Post Office. Rosa rode her bicycle six days a week, from Stourton Caundle to Stalbridge, throughout the war years, working long hours in what was at the time an extremely busy post office, as a. result of a large army presence at Gibbs Marsh. Numbers increased still further, with the arrival of American troops in 1943. Rosa met my father at a dance at Stourton Caundle Village Hut around Christmas time 1940, shortly before he joined the RAF. Her elder stepbrother Frank was a member of the local dance band, known as the Bing Boys, who were playing that night.
My Stourton Caundle childhood, living at number Two Bridge Cottages, began when my father started work as a dairyman for Charlie Garrett at Manor Farm in the spring of 1948. My earliest memories are from around the time I was enrolled at the village primary school in the autumn of 1951. Living conditions had changed little since my mother’s own childhood, when living next door at number One Bridge Cottages, in the 1920s. The toilet was still in an outhouse located halfway down the garden, with a combined adult and child wooden seat, fixed by metal hinges to a wooden frame, with a removable panel on the front, and metal buckets placed below the holes in the seat.
The contents were usually emptied on a moonlit night with the wind in a favourable direction, then placed in a previously dug hole and covered with ashes. Sheets of newsprint, cut up into small squares, hung by a piece of string from a rusty nail hammered into the back of the badly fitting entrance door. A picture of the newly crowned Queen, adorned in her coronation robe, cut from a magazine, hung from another rusty nail hammered into a mortar joint between the crumbling stonework, in the wall above the seat.
We had the luxury of china bedpans, placed under the bed, preventing the need to walk down the garden path during the night. Mains water was available from a standpipe erected outside of the back door, which often froze in winter. On a cold winter’s night the inside of the panes of glass in the bedroom windows were frozen solid. There was no heating other than an open fire in the front room grate and paraffin stove in the kitchen. Kindling wood used for lighting the fires in the grate, and firewood, came from Manor Farm. Coal was expensive and its use kept to a minimum. The quality was often poor, especially from the Radstock coal pits, generating more smoke than heat and often spitting.
A large tin bath hung from a rusty nail, driven into a mortar joint on the outside wall of the cottage, to the right hand side of the back door. It was taken down every Saturday evening at around 7pm, placed in the living room in front of the iron range and filled with hot water from the copper, in readiness for our weekly bath. My younger sister went first and I followed, after the hot water had been topped up with another bucketful from the copper. In 1955, following the connection of the main sewerage system to the village, we experienced some improvement in our living conditions, with the erection of an outside flush toilet and the connection of a cold water tap over the kitchen sink.
Food rationing may have finally ended in 1954, but our staple diet, like that of most working class rural families, still relied heavily on bread and potatoes. Fresh vegetables were also available in season, grown by my father in our cottage garden. A few hens were also kept in the back garden, adjoining the boundary wall with the Trooper Inn, in a pen constructed of 6ft high wire netting and stout posts, for protection against foxes, provided a constant supply of fresh eggs. Most village families kept a few hens in the 1950s and the clucking of a hen, after laying an egg, was a common sound throughout the day. On Good Friday morning each year a line of seed potatoes was planted, alongside those of the other farm workers, in one of the fields at Manor Farm, to provide a crop sufficient to last at least until next year’s planting time. Young kale tops, cow cabbage, turnips and swedes, all grown for cattle fodder, supplemented our staple diet, which consisted mainly of bread and potatoes. White meat was a luxury and only eaten on Christmas Day. Wild rabbits were plentiful, before the advent of myxamotosis, and rabbit stew was my favourite meal, cooked on the black iron range in the living room. At mealtimes we all sat together around the living room table.
Our only day out as a family was the annual village outing to either Weymouth, or Swanage, organized by the Women’s Institute. Three Bere Regis coaches were hired, and we set off with our buckets and spades, while my mother was carrying a bag containing the beach picnic, our only treats were an ice cream and a ride on a donkey.
A village outing in 1952
Left to Right: Harry Holdway, ?(behind), Ernest Cooke. Cecil Orchard (behind), Mrs. Orchard,?. Pam Parsons, (with handbag), Mrs. Bugg, Mary Orchard, Mrs. A Lane (behind), Mrs. Priddle, Mrs. Bugg (behind), Mrs. A Bealing, Mrs. Osmond (behind), Billy Dare, Mrs. R Knott, (behind) Mrs. Oliver, Mrs. Dare, Mrs. M. Stainer, Jean Parsons. (white ankle socks), ?, Mrs Gwinnurth, Sandra Gwinnurth(white bow in hair), Mrs Dennett, Mrs Bond, (behind), Lena Bond, ?.
The Women’s Institute also organised the Christmas Party for the village children in the hut, with a Mr. Harris from Stalbridge providing the entertainment with his conjuring tricks.
1955 Children’s Christmas Party
Standing Left to Right: ?, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Bealing, Mrs. Bugg, Mrs. Argyles, ?.
Seated left hand side from front: Mary Orchard, Delia Baverstock, ?, ?, Beverly Guy, /(leaning back), Eva Loader, Gloria Preston, ?.
Seated right hand side from front: Adrian Bealing, Brian Gray, Veron Caines, Geoffrey Reddicliffe, ?, Cyril Bond, David Ford, Bernard Gray, ?, ?, ?, Vernon Caines, John Harris and Eric Bealing
A television set was installed on November the 4th 1953, a date that has remained firmly implanted in my mind.
My father’s employer, Charlie Garrett, commented at the time that he was paying him too much, with only three other sets in the village at this time. The 12inch GEC set in a wooden cabinet had cost around fifty-five pounds, a considerable some of money for a farm worker at the time. My father had managed to save this amount by working as a part time gardener, for a Mrs Baker at Grange Cottage, during the spring and summer evenings, when he was not required for hay-making and harvesting at Manor Farm. With a 6am start each morning, seven days a week, combined with the summer overtime and a part time gardening job, as well as cropping his own garden, meant that he did not have any time for leisure activities, other than watching television in the winter evenings. Neighbours and relations came to our cottage in the winter evenings to watch programmes, such as the Grove Family and Dixon of Dock Green. While I had to be content with Annette Mills, along with Muffin the Mule and his friends Peregrine the Penguin, and Willy the Worm dancing around on a tabletop, or Billy Bunter. Live broadcasting of sporting events also started around this time, and my earliest memories of televised sport include Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile and the epic three-mile race at the White City, when Christopher Chataway defeated the famous Russian athlete Emile Kuts.
Independent Television arrived in 1958, our set was unable to receive this new channel so I had to walk to my Grandparents’ house to watch Double Your Money, Take your Pick and the first popular television soap opera Emergency Ward Ten starring Jill Browne as Nurse Carol Young. The first hit comedy show The Army Game with William Hartnell as Sergeant Major Bullimore and Alfie Bass as Excused Boots Bisley was another favourite. Wagon Train was another, the continuing story of a wagon train heading west, with a guest star featuring in each episode, searching for a new life in California.
By 1957 I was starting to take an interest in popular music and my grandfather gave me his 1920s wind up gramophone.
The gramophone had to be rewound, and the needle changed after each record was played, with the gramophone came a collection of 1930 records mostly on the Rex, Regal-Zonophone and His Masters Voice labels, including The Isle of Capri and Home James and Don’t Spare the Horses. I then started saving my pocket money to purchase records from the Top Ten of the time. The Rock and Roll era had just started, and my early purchases on 78s included Yes Tonight Josephine sung by Johnny Ray, Singing the Blues sung by Tommy Steele and a cheaper Woolworths Embassy Label version of Buddy Holly’s Rave On. I subsequently progressed to a Dansette record player and spent all of my pocket money on the new 45rpm records that had just become available. The songs of the late 1950s recording stars could be heard blasting out of my bedroom window on summer evenings, much to the annoyance of my father.
Flooding was a common occurrence at Bridge Cottages, as the twin stone culverts underneath the road were not large enough to carry the volumes of water during periods of heavy rainfall.
Sand bags were piled on the front doorsteps and the few items of ground floor furniture hurriedly carried upstairs.
In 1954, when the mains sewerage system was being installed, I can remember watching from a front bedroom window as the paraffin lamps, protecting the open trench through the village, floated down the high street, from the Brunsells Farm direction, and carried on down the brook, while still alight. In 1966, after years of lobbying by the Parish Council, Dorset County Council Highways department finally opened up the road and replaced the stone arches with sectional concrete pipes.
Bridge Cottages are on the left, with the Bere Regis bus passing in front of Dairy House. The bus, known as the workers bus, provided a daily morning service to Sherborne and Yeovil and a return service in the early evening.
In 1958 we moved the short distance from Bridge Cottages to Dairy House at Golden Hill.
My father and my uncle carried our furniture, household belongings and my rabbit hutches up the street to our new home. There was a Belfast kitchen sink in the kitchen, with cold water connected, but the toilet was still outside. We were to wait another three years before we were to experience for the first time the convenience of a hot water system, along with a bath and an inside flush toilet. There were flagstones on the floors of the kitchen and living room, which were separated by means of a wooden partition made up of rough planks of timber, originally sawn from a tree trunk in the Stourhead Estate saw pit located at the rear of Pophams. The two bedroom floors in the original part of the house, sloped alarmingly from one side of the room to the other. The thatched roof had been replaced with tiles by my grandfather in 1924. An extension was added on the north side during the same year, with the roof timbers installed, and roof tiling, carried out by my grandfather, who had been apprenticed to a carpenter in his teenage years.
My first of many pet rabbits was a large white angora buck with pink eyes.
I can remember collecting him from my Great Uncle Tom at Rockhill Farm. I named him Percy and his hutch was placed against the outside wall at the rear of the outside privy at Bridge Cottages. Soon afterwards I acquired a doe and the inevitable consequences followed. Additional hutches were constructed, from any suitable odd bits of timber I could lay my hands on, to house the increasing number of rabbits and also diversification into guinea pigs. After moving to Dairy House the hutches were placed along the sheltered south-facing wall of the house, with the tops protected with galvanised metal sheeting and the fronts of the hutches protected by hessian sacks overnight during the winter months. Straw for bedding was readily available from Manor Farm and in the spring and summer dandelions and milk thistles were picked by the bag-full from the roadside verges around the village. While I was fully conversant with animal reproduction from a very young age, watching the bulls serving the cows at Manor Farm, I was not as well educated when it came to birth control. However the income from selling surplus stock the local butcher, George Parsons at Stalbridge Weston, provided the funds to purchase bran from Moores at Stalbridge, to supplement their diet during the winter months, when I had to rely on cabbage leaves, kale tops and hay.
A well at the rear of the house was filled in by my father and every inch of the garden was cultivated and cropped with potatoes and vegetables, with planting times meticulously planned for crops to reach maturity to coincide with the school flower show. Sweet peas and roses were also grown for exhibition and a bed of dahlias under the front wall provided an array of colour each autumn.
Competition between the cottage gardeners was fierce and the evening before the show my father’s garden, normally in immaculate condition, suddenly took on the appearance of a bomb-site, as potatoes and roots crops were dug up in order to find the best matching sets.
Starting several days before the show the longest straight runner beans had been saved, when ready for picking, and wrapped in damp cloths, in an attempt to keep them fresh. Rose buds in danger of being to fully open on the day of the show were cut early and placed in vases in the dark to try and keep them in tight bud. Onions and shallots were harvested prior to the show, with the rough outside skin carefully peeled off. They were placed outside during dry daylight hours to dry off, with the white outer skin turning a light brown. The necks were then folded over and tied with raffia.
Mr. Foxwell had organised the first village flower show in the summer of 1954.
Cups were awarded to the winners of the various sections, and a cup was also presented to the person who overall gained most points.
After the show, Mr. Vern Guy auctioned all the unclaimed exhibits, to raise money for the school funds. Various sideshows and attractions were organised, including skittles and a coconut shy.
On the evening of the 1955 show, a comic football match took place in the orchard, at the rear of the School, between men from either end of the village.
Comic football match 1955
In the mid 1960s a learner’s swimming pool was purchased, which meant that during the last five years of the school’s existence every leaver was awarded a proficiency badge for swimming.