Bishop's Cleeve in the 1940s
Bishops Cleeve in the 1940s (a boy's-eye view)
By David Wilson
Read the fascinating story of a young boy growing up in a Gloucestershire village in the 1940s...
David Wilson in 1956
Once upon a time there was a quiet Cotswold village tucked away at the foot of Cleeve Hill. Old stone houses and thatched cottages clustered around the Parish Church. The pace of life was steady, and everyone knew each other.
Then, for the second time in the Century, Someone started a War. Bombs fell on our towns and cities, and the Powers-That-Be decided to uproot a factory from West London and plant it barely a mile from the centre of the village. The year was 1940...
A Personal Note
My father (Arthur Wilson) was among the first group of employees to be transferred from London to the new Smiths factory. He moved down early in 1940 and my mother (Rosie Wilson) and I joined him in lodgings in Cheltenham. I was five years old. We lived for a year in the basement of an old Regency house in Winchcomb Street, near Pittville Gates.
My brother Tom was born there in May 1940. We were still there on 11 December when Cheltenham suffered its worst night of bombing of the whole war. Stoneville Street, Pilley Bridge and the Black & White coach station were destroyed and more than twenty people were killed. My brother and I slept right through it all, even though the Coach station was less than three hundred yards away.
Then in March 1941 we moved to a new housing estate called Meadoway, which was near Bishops Cleeve. For many of our generation 1940 marked the start of the most momentous decade of our lives. The purpose of these notes is to record some of the events, and the names of people that I knew - before my memory gets any worse.
1. THE OLD VILLAGE
Newlands junction by Smith’s lights
NEWLANDS TO MEADOWAY
If you started from Poole's fish and chip shop in Portland Street and pedalled like fury along the Evesham Road, you could reach the Meadoway turning in about 15 minutes. On a good day you might even beat the Number 62 bus, provided that it made at least one stop. The best part of the ride was zooming down Park Bank with your head down, trying to gain enough momentum to take you up the sharp rise to The Newlands. My best time was about 12 minutes, but this was by no means the record. That honour went, I believe, to Derek Stammers, but more about that later.
Map of Bishops Cleeve District in 1945
The Newlands was a hamlet of about half a dozen houses, together with the Racecourse garage and the Newlands Inn. Most of the buildings were on the left hand side of the main road. The Inn was run by Mr. Drinkwater-Lunn, who had been an athlete of some note in his younger days. A rather pretty girl named Gwen Drinkwater also lived there. She was at Bishops Cleeve school in one of the higher classes when I joined the infants in 1941. The whole of the Newlands was demolished in the early 1960s to make room for further expansion of the factory. You could do things like that in those days.
Smiths factory occupied a huge site on the left of the main road just past the Newlands. Building had started in the Autumn of 1939 and the first block (CHI) was ready by May 1940. The land opposite the factory had also been purchased by Smiths and was to become their sports field. Beyond the factory was a row of about six detached houses. In the first of these lived Mr. and Mrs. Pitman. He was a Manager at Smiths. There were four children in the family: Patricia was the eldest, then came Margaret, Pamela, and Richard. They were a lively bunch. Richard was later to make his name as a National Hunt jockey, a BBC commentator, and an author. His former wife, Jenny, also became famous as the trainer of two Grand National winners. Mr. Sidney Boardman lived in the same row of houses. He was the headmaster of Bishops Cleeve school, a quiet, dignified man, and not very tall. Opposite was an old red-brick cottage where a boy a little older than me named Denis Fyce lived with his grandmother. They sold produce from their garden during the Summer months. The turning for the Grange and the Meadoway estate came next on the left. This was to be my home for the next 21 years, and my sister Christine was born here. So I think I will give it a chapter of its own.
MEADOWAY TO STOKE ROAD
A few yards farther along on the right was the Crown and Harp pub and next to that was a plant nursery run by Mr. and Mrs. Stacey. Their greenhouses extended all the way down to Two Hedges Road. They had two sons who often joined in the games of the Meadoway children. The eldest was called Wyndom, but I'm afraid I've forgotten the name of his brother. The nursery grew lovely tomatoes, but the most interesting thing to us was that one of their workers was a German POW. He wore brown overalls with a large round grey patch sewn on the back. To our amazement he turned up for work each day on a bicycle, without an armed guard, and never tried to escape. I think we called him 'Hermann the German' - but he showed no resentment. He just worked steadily and we grew quite fond of him.
David Wilson today
Two Hedges Road had only a scattering of houses in the 1940s. The Eustace family lived a short way along on the left. Rachel and Thelma were twins of about my age and they had a younger sister called Carol. We often took a short cut to school across the fields near their house. There was great excitement one day when we discovered that a military aeroplane had crashed in Two Hedges Road near the junction with Kayte Lane. It was half in the field and half in the ditch on the right hand side. Most of the boys from school went to have a look. You could actually touch the wreckage because the guards were not very strict. The plane was the size of a fighter or small bomber, and I think it may have been American. It was quite badly damaged, but had not caught fire. I'm afraid I don't know the fate of the crew.
Grange Farm (Redman's)
Continuing along the main road, Redman's farm was next on the left. The old red-brick farmhouse was at right angles to the road, facing the farmyard. John Redman was one of the grown-up sons, and he was in charge of the cattle. His pride and joy was a magnificent bull which was kept in a strong wooden shed with a pen made of steel bars. John treated him with great respect and used a pole with a hook at the end to lead him by the nose when taking him to the fields.
There were a few houses on the left just beyond the farm. Harold Hayward lived in one of them, and John Hopkins also lived along here, I believe. In a few more yards you reached Tomkins' orchard which was on the left just before the road sloped down to the village. Mr.Tomkins was a big man who wore an old-fashioned smock and a hat with a floppy brim when working. His orchard was of great interest to us because it contained several fine walnut trees. He made it quite clear that these were out of bounds, but did not mind us hunting for the nuts which fell outside his hedge. I've spent many happy times on my way home from school grubbing about in the ditch. The walnuts had a thin green skin which had a lovely tangy smell, while inside the shell the nuts were soft and sweet, far better than those you bought in shops.
Opposite here was a stile and a footpath which led through Kent's orchard, and was an alternative route to school. The owner was friendly to children and was happy for us to eat the windfalls so long as we did not touch the fruit on the trees. Having been put on our honour we surprisingly kept to the bargain - well, most of the time anyway.
Bishop's Cleeve Home Defence Volunteers, C1940
Near the stile there was a huge block of concrete on either side of the road during the war. I was told that these were tank traps. There was also a pill box about 20 yards farther down tucked into the hedge on the left. Two or three of us were walking to school along this stretch one morning when a Jeep full of American soldiers drove past, heading back to their camp at Ashchurch. We held our breath, and sure enough a handful of sweets were tossed out and landed on the path just ahead of us, including chewing gum and bubble gum. We were over the moon because sweets like this were unobtainable during the war.
This stretch of road got badly worn because hundreds of tanks came this way in the run-up to D-day (6th June 1944). They made a tremendous din and their tracks bit into the tarmac. Soon after the war ended the road was re-laid, and I watched a gang of workmen spreading fresh tarmac with big rakes and ramming it down with a huge old-fashioned steam roller. Then as darkness fell the night watchman settled down in his box at the side of the road and lit a fire in a brazier to brew himself a can of tea. I've never forgotten the rich smell of the tar, or the sound of the steamroller.
Willow Cottage, Stoke Road
At the bottom of the slope Stoke Road joined from the left. Just around the corner was a black and white thatched cottage owned by Mr. and Mrs. Eager. They had a pretty garden with a stream running through, where one day I saw a kingfisher perched on a branch, staring intently down at the water. I don't think that I've seen one since.
Behind the cottage was the recreation field which was used by the village football team, and for events as diverse as Guy Fawkes night and motor cycle grass track racing.
Bishop's Cleeve football team
The annual Flower Show and Sports Day, which was suspended during the war, was also held here. I kept a cutting from the 'Echo' of the first Sports Day held after the war. The date was 17 July 1948 and here are the placings in some of the races:
60 yards (boys under 9)
60 yards (girls under 9)
80 yards (boys 9-12)
80 yards (girls 9-12)
100 yards (boys under 15)
100 yards (girls under 15)
220 yards (boys 14-16)
440 yards (men)
880 yards (men)
One mile (men)
I'm tempted to continue down Stoke Road at this point because it led to Bishops Park where I made a lot of friends. But once again I will save this for another chapter and carry on to the centre of the village.
Gate-house to rectory - Doctor's Surgery in 1975
STOKE ROAD TO GILDER'S CORNER
The Rectory was next on the left. Set back from the main road behind a stone wall and half hidden by tall trees, this was the grandest house in the whole village as far as I was concerned. The Rector during the war was the Rev. Jesson. He died in 1947, and was followed by the Rev. and Mrs. Edmunds. They had two young children. Once I went inside the Rectory when Mrs. Edmunds entertained some of the Cubs. I remember the large entrance hall and the massive stone slabs on the floor - and how cold and draughty it was in there! My favourite memory of the Rector, however, concerns his bicycle. He went everywhere on an old roadster with a big wicker basket on the front, and whenever you saw it propped against the church porch you felt reassured because you knew he was in there ministering to his parish. And of course, no wedding was really authentic unless the photographs featured his old bike in the background.
There was a gate-house by the entrance to the Rectory where Dr. Meade-King and Dr. Spiridion held their surgeries. As with many doctors in those days they were prepared to deal with all kinds of emergency. I vividly remember Dr. Meade-King carrying out a minor operation on me, under general anaesthetic, on our dining room table at home. You paid on the nail before 1948 of course. We also had two District Nurses who were held in high regard, called Nurse Moorhen and Nurse Slade.
Bishop's Cleeve Fire Engine
Opposite the Rectory was the Tithe Barn. It was a huge building in those days. An old hand-operated fire 'engine' was stored inside, together with a few farm implements, but otherwise it was empty and used only occasionally.
The road then curved to the right and the village War Memorial, which was on an island in the middle of the road, came into view.
Old Post Office c1950
Church Road joined the main road at this point. On the right was the Kings Head and on the left, in a small Cotswold stone house, was the village Post Office. This was run by Mr. and Mrs. Baylis, assisted by their daughter Doreen and her older brother. The interior of the shop was just perfect, with a long polished wooden counter and lots of pigeon-hole shelves at the back for all the forms. I was a regular visitor and bought 'J' nibs for my school pen, and anything that looked vaguely like a sweet - tubes of sherbet, sticks of liquorice, tins of Zubes, and little celophane packets of Nippits. Happy days.
The old smithy
Staying on the main road you came next to the village Smithy in an old timbered building on the right. There was plenty of trade in the 1940's and it was fascinating to watch the big carthorses being shod. The smith, who wore a leather apron, had only to touch the horse's leg and he would lift it up at once and rest it on the smith's knee. The old shoe was removed and the hoof cleaned up. Then a new shoe was heated in the fire and bedded in, giving off a strong acrid smell (another smell in my memory bank!). After cooling in a bucket of water, the shoe was secured with long nails, driven in at an angle to avoid the centre of the hoof, and the tips of any protruding nails were filed off.
Just beyond here was a small wooden building where Mr. Freebrey, the village shoe repairer, plied his trade. I can't remember much about his shop but I do know that he had a young daughter named Betty who had lovely blonde hair.
Gilder's Butchers, Cheltenham Rd, c1940s
Farther down on the left stood a small butchers shop bearing the name of 'S.H. Gilder'. This was the only butchers in the village during the war years and so everyone had to register here for their meat ration. Mr. Sidney Gilder was a large and formidable man. I can see him now in his striped apron standing behind his counter amidst the sawdust, sharpening his knife on the steel at frightening speed, as if preparing for battle.
Behind the shop was Home Farm which was owned by the Gilder family. I remember Alf who was one of their older sons. He was a strapping young man who became Troop Leader of the local Scouts. His sister Molly helped to run the Guides, and younger brother Michael was also in the Scouts.
Joe Powers Petrol Station, c1950
Opposite Gilders shop was another village institution. As you gazed across the road you were confronted with a ramshackle wooden building of uncertain age, with just one hand-operated petrol pump and nowhere much for you to pull in. This was Joe Powers garage.
As often as not Joe himself would be standing outside in his boiler suit, wiping his hands on an oily rag, waiting for his next customer. He must have been close on fifty when I first knew him, though he still had a thick mop of dark hair.
If his garage was perhaps a little scruffy on the outside, then it was most certainly chaotic inside. Every inch of space was covered with bits and pieces salvaged from old cars and everything was saturated with oil. But it had character in bucket-loads and I loved it.
In those days before diagnostic computers, you put your trust in Joe's ingenuity and his heaps of odds and ends to get you out of trouble. He sold us petrol and paraffin, mended our bikes, charged our wireless accumulators and provided a taxi service with his old black saloon. True, he got a bit grumpy at times, but he would always help you out.
As you entered Church Road, there were two or three old thatched cottages with lath and plaster walls on the left. They were attractive though in need of some repair. W. J. Oldacre's yard and offices were on the right, dealing in coal, grain and animal feed. Miss Oldacre lived in a house at the end of the yard.
Cottage in Church Road - where Mr. Trapp lived
Next door was a lovely old black and white cottage where Mr. Trapp lived. He was a man of few words, rather short, and had a fine walrus moustache. You often saw him pedalling slowly around the village on his ancient bicycle. Colin Dart also lived there with his mother. Colin joined the Cubs at the same time as me and I remember once going inside the cottage. As you entered the front door you had to step down almost twelve inches to reach floor level. You then found yourself in a wonderful old room, which took up most of the downstairs area and went right through to the back.
The walls and ceiling were whitewashed, and the floor was made of bricks set directly into the earth. At the right hand end was a huge fireplace and kitchen range, while at the other end Mr. Trapp's bicycle was leaning against a pile of logs. There was a door in this wall which led upstairs. On the back wall was a large stone sink and a small gas stove. A scrubbed wooden table and an assortment of chairs made up the rest of the furniture. The back door was ajar and I could see chickens pecking in the yard.
A few doors along was Beckingsales the grocers, which I think was regarded as the more upmarket of the two grocery shops in the village. Inside all was neat and tidy, with a long wooden counter and sacks of loose foodstuffs, such as flour, lentils, dried peas and rice, leaning against the walls ready to be weighed out for you into blue paper bags. There was always a queue and you prayed that those in front did not have long lists.
To the right of the shop was a bungalow where Brian Holter lived with his family. Brian was in the same class as me and was good at art and rounders.
Opposite was another attractive thatched cottage where I think Joe and Amy Ballinger may have lived, though I may be confusing this with a similar cottage in Station Road. They were both in older classes when I arrived at the village school.
Church Road, again in the 1950s
Church Approach was next on the left. We often cut through the churchyard on our way to school. There were hundreds of tombstones, dating back to the 1700's. My favourite was the grave of a young child with an angel carved in white marble. I went to Sunday School in the church early in the 1940's, and later on attended Scout parade services. If we were lucky we were allowed to sit up in the wooden minstrel's gallery at the west end of the nave. Then one day I heard about an old schoolroom above the Porch which was not open to the public. This intrigued me no end. Eventually the temptation became too strong and two of us crept into the Church one day after school, scaled the rickety ladder, and climbed through the trapdoor into the room. We were extremely nervous. There was a musty smell and we felt that we had stepped back in time. On the walls there were drawings in black ink which had been used in school lessons many years ago. One was of a magnificent tiger, fierce enough to give you nightmares. I'm sure it was wicked to have gone up there without permission and I feel relieved to have made a confession at last.
The Elm Tree pub
Opposite Church Approach was the Elm Tree pub, followed by a row of old cottages. In one of these lived Peter and Tony Masters who were twins, a little younger than me. They were a happy-go-lucky pair, with strong local accents, and when they both talked to me at once, which they invariably did, I just couldn't keep up with them. You came next to a T-junction. To the right was Tobyfield Lane, which ran for about 200 yards and ended at a five-barred gate. It's hard to imagine now, but beyond this gate there were fields which were full of wild flowers in the Summer, especia11y cowslips. Here you could either go right for Kents orchard, or straight ahead through the fields to Two Hedges Road. This was our preferred route home from school, though it did lose some of its appeal one day when we failed to spot a bull among a herd of cows. He put his head down and charged at us from about 25 yards away. We an made it to the next stile, but never had we run so fast in our lives. The new Taylor Woodrow estate was commenced in 1948.
Edginton's Bakery, Tobyfield Road, 1953
Halfway along Tobyfield Lane on the right hand side was Edginton's Bakery. A delicious smell of fresh bread usually met us on our way home from school, and we would look through the doorway to see Mr. Edginton, I suppose it was, covered in flour, manoeuvring the loaves with a sort of wooden paddle. It was stifling in the bakehouse. About twice a week we pooled our pennies and bought a loaf to eat on the way home. That bread was, and remains, the best I have ever tasted. You won't believe, but we used to squabble over the crust. I am pretty certain that a large loaf only cost us 4d (about 1.7p) in the early 1940s.
Opposite the bakery lived John Trueman. He was a tall ,well-built boy of about my age, and a fellow Scout. A few doors to his left lived 'Ginger' Dulake, who was in the same class as me. He was friendly enough, but he had a chum named Bill Attwood who I have to admit put the wind up me from the start. He was taller and older than me, and I sensed that he didn't think much of some of the newcomers, especially those who swanned around in Scout uniforms. Looking back I have to admit that I now have a lot of sympathy with his point of view. Because without doubt the Smiths incomers, for better or for worse, changed the old village way of life for ever.
View South from Church Tower, 1955
If you turned left at the T-junction and followed Church Road round you came to a sharp 'Z' bend, which led you to School Road and Pecked Lane. There were several thatched cottages on the right as you approached the first bend and one of them had a red and white barbers pole fixed to its wall. As far as I know it was still open for business.
Pecked Lane (pronounced 'pecket') joined the top of School Road at the second of the sharp bends. In the early 1940s it was a really pretty country lane with hedges so thick on either side that in places you felt as if you were in a tunnel. Our class went for nature walks along here and we were able to collect all sorts of wild flowers for pressing and mounting in our books.
Farm on Pecked Lane
The Goring family lived along here. There were five boys altogether I believe, and the three youngest were my contemporaries. David and Laurie were twins and George (nicknamed 'Snowy') was their younger brother. The two older brothers had already left school. They were all strongly built lads, well able to take care of themselves. You did not mess the Goring boys around. All of them were natural footballers.
I remember in the Summer of 1949, I think it was, that my Uncle, George Beard, came down from London to visit us. Dad and I took him for a walk through the village on the Sunday morning, and as was usual in those days groups of young people were standing around and chatting in Church Road. We were about level with Trapp's cottage when my Uncle suddenly stopped in his tracks and stared at one of the groups. After a moments hesitation he went nervously over, introduced himself, and then asked one of the young men for his autograph. There followed some good-natured banter, then a handshake, and my Uncle came back clutching a piece of paper and beaming all over his face. It all looked very strange, but perhaps not too surprising, because the name on the paper was Peter Goring, who was the captain of Arsenal around that time.
As you went down School Road from the Pecked Lane end you passed a stone cottage on the left where Stan Roder lived. He was one of the older boys when I joined the school. Next came the churchyard, and the school buildings were exactly opposite. To their right was the school playing field which extended all the way back to Pecked Lane. There were flower beds around the edge of the field and the middle was large enough for football or rounders. It was the ideal place for letting off steam at lunch time. Having spent the first six months of my education at Dunalley School in Cheltenham where there wasn't a blade of grass to be seen, this seemed like heaven to me.
Bishop's Cleeve Home Guard, c1944
Cleeve School took children from 5 to 14 years (15 years after 1944) and did a fine job under war conditions. All the teachers except the Headmaster were women and the classes were large. I joined in March 1941 at the age of 6, and from the moment I entered Miss Legg's infant class in the large wooden hut, I felt at home. She was a tall, no-nonsense sort of lady, but always had a twinkle in her eye. Every morning after the register we chanted our times tables, and then did our sums - often on slates to save paper. After our milk and playtime we read from the Beacon books. There were six books in the series, each one getting progressively harder, and competition was fierce to be first to reach Book Six. In the afternoons, for light relief, we made plasticene models and small table-mats out of round cardboard milk tops and raffia.
On Monday mornings we queued up at the teacher's desk to pay our sixpences for a Savings stamp. When you reached fifteen shillings (75p) - which seemed like a fortune then - you were given a National Savings Certificate. We had gas mask drill once a week during 1941-2. Every adult and child had been issued with a gas mask and we had to carry them to school each day in their special cardboard box. Teachers made sure that you could put your mask on quickly and without any gaps. They were claustrophobic things to wear, and smelt strongly of rubber. But you could make some really rude noises by blowing hard.
Several days each week we had PT in the playground or on the field if it was dry. We were split up into four teams and given a coloured braid of red, blue, yellow or green to wear across our chests. But first we had to be issued with suitable footwear, because in those days children wore heavy leather shoes with Blakeys hammered into the heels. The teacher would bring out this sack of old plimsolls which smelt to high heaven and tip them out on the classroom floor. There followed an uncivilized free-for-all as we fought for the best shoes. It always ended in tears. I soon gave up the idea of finding anything that actual1y fitted and felt pleased if I just got a left and a right.
The school was pretty crowded at the beginning of the war, even though several wooden huts had been erected to supplement the old Victorian buildings. But numbers went through the roof after 1941 when Smiths factory really got going. Classes overflowed into the school canteen and then out into the vllage. I can remember being taught in the Women's Institute and in Denley's Bakery at different times. There was a severe shortage of staff, so much so that several retired teachers were asked to come back to help - which brings me neatly to Miss Edginton and Mrs. Lane.
I shall never forget these two dear ladies. Both must have been nearer 70 than 60 years old, and yet they did a wonderful job. They certainly left an indelible impression on my mind, and on other parts of my anatomy as well. Because, oh boy, were they strict. You just wouldn't believe. Miss Edginton taught 7 or 8 year Olds, and her classroom was straight ahead as you came in the first of the two school entrances. When the whistle blew we lined up outside her door, and climbed the steps with an uneasy feeling in our stomachs. She always stood by the door and gave each of us a hard look as we filed past. I think we had lost the battle even before lessons began.
She was a lady of medium height, slim, upright, with sharp features and swept back iron grey hair. A wooden ruler sat ominously on her desk at the front of the class, and although we had a healthy respect for this teaching aid, we feared her sharp tongue even more, and quickly discovered that the only way to keep out of trouble was to sit up straight, keep quiet, and pay attention. She had no favourites. Even if you volunteered to be Ink Monitor you were treated just the same as the rest. Yes, we all moaned about her and swapped horror stories in the playground. But her classes were orderly and she gained our respect.
Mrs. Lane taught some of the older children in one of the original classrooms at the back of the school. I remember that her desks were arranged less formally, and on the walls there was a map of the world, a picture of 'The Laughing Cavalier' and a large pendulum clock with Roman numerals. Mrs. Lane was not as tall as her colleague and was rather more stout. She also had a much shorter fuse. I dare say that there was a wooden ruler around somewhere, but all she really needed was her strong right arm. Strapping village lads, who were head and shoulders above her, would cower behind their desks as she cut a swathe through the class towards the seat of the trouble.
However, she did have a softer side to her nature. I well remember one afternoon that she was reading 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' to the class - she had a lovely deep voice - and had reached one of the saddest bits, when all of a sudden her voice wavered and a tear rolled down her cheek. She said that she just couldn't go on. Instantly the whole class was on her side and pleaded with her to continue. It was quite remarkable. She also gained our respect. ..
More teachers joined the staff as pupil numbers increased. I remember Miss Carter, who was with us for a while and went on I believe to become a missionary in Nepal. Then there was Mrs. Clark who taught the 8 and 9 year olds. Her lessons were always interesting. She was the teacher who took us on nature walks, and got us to design posters in our art lesson. Unfortunately she did not stay very long because, being a rather glamorous lady, she took the eye of an American officer who was stationed in the area, and left to get married.
Mr. Mervyn Carver joined the school soon after the war. He was a good teacher with a strong Christian faith who later founded the evangelical Free Church in the village. The last teacher I had before I left the school was Mrs. Mitchell, another of those local ladies brought out of retirement. She had a quiet manner, and yet was able to control a large class of 10 and 11 years olds with apparent ease. There were no fireworks, just interesting lessons, and plenty of encouragement. Under her tuition I felt that I wanted to learn and I owe her a lot.
Most children lived within a radius of about one and a half miles of the school and walked there each day. But there were twenty or so from outlying villages such as Oxenton and Alstone who came in by single-decker bus. I'm afraid that the only names I can remember after all this time are Oliver Barrett and his younger sister Megan, who were an action-packed pair, and Angela Richardson, a tall, confident girl, with dark hair.
Considering the wide variety of children at the school, there wasn't too much trouble in the playground, though I do remember seeing a fight one day between two girls of about 10 or 11, which completely changed my views about the weaker sex. They punched and kicked and scratched and bit and pulled each others hair, all the while screaming at the top of their voices. We all kept our distance, I'm ashamed to say, and left it to Miss Legg to part them. I don't know what it was all about, and I can't remember their names - honestly I can't. Most playtimes were more peaceful than that.
Station Road flooded in the early 1950s
In every playground, however, there is a pecking order, and without doubt the boy that ruled the roost in the mid 1940s was Bryn Rees. He lived at Bishops Park and his family (you've guessed!) were Welsh. Short and stocky in build, he was a confident, quick-witted boy, and a natural street fighter. His word was law because few were prepared to stand up to him. This went on for some time, until one day a new boy named MacGregor joined the school. I can't remember his first name, so I'll call him Mac. He had a Scottish accent, a quiet manner, and broad shoulders.
A few skirmishes in the playground proved that he was strong for his age and would not be pushed around. Nor did he lack courage. I saw him myself dive from the highest of the three boards in Sandford Park Lido - this being one of the tests of manhood among my age group. I never managed any higher than the second. With credentials like this Mac soon gained a following at school, particularly when he made it clear that he had no wish to join the Bryn Rees fan club. The pecking order was under threat and a clash was inevitable.
It came one playtime when Bryn decided to exert his authority by challenging his rival to a fight. This did not have its usual effect, however, because Mac promptly accepted. A thrill of excitement went round the school and in no time the dispute had been elevated from a quick brawl in the playground to a properly arranged fight to the finish after school hours. There must have been at least a hundred of us gathered at the Tobyfield junction at 4.15, almost blocking the road. In the middle were the protagonists, staring each other down. The rival supporters began trading insults, and tension mounted. At any moment the first blow would be struck and blood would be spilt. There wasn't a teacher in sight. We held our breath...
I don't know who blinked first. Maybe Bryn thought that the outcome was too close to call. Perhaps Mac felt that the whole business was getting out of hand. The rhetoric continued unabated, but we noticed that little by little their hands dropped to their sides and more space appeared between them. There would be no fight that day. It was cleverly done because I don't remember there being much loss of face on either side.
Farther down Church Road you came to Priory Lane, and on the corner was a small stone cottage where Fred Pinder lived with his parents. He was a happy-go-lucky sort of lad, and in the same class as me. Sports of all kinds came naturally to him. I remember that he once owned a conker which was a 'one hundred and sixty fourer'. Their cottage was old and had tiny rooms with low ceilings, and was very homely. The toilet was outside in the back garden. Just beyond Priory Lane was the Womens Institute and right at the end was a conker tree on an island in the middle of the road.
If you now turned right into Station Road and walked a dozen yards you came to Jeynes' Shop on the right hand side which sold groceries. It was a small square building, with wooden (or was it asbestos?) walls, and a flat roof. When the rain beat down you could hardly hear yourself speak. You had to give the door a good shove because it tended to stick, and then the bell above your head would jangle like crazy and make you jump. The shop was not much to look at and yet people were in and out all day long. It was run by Mr. and Mrs. Jeynes with help from their daughters Peggy, who was the eldest, and Pat, who was still at school.
Mr. Jeynes was a tall, hard-working man with a dry sense of humour. He knew where every item of stock was kept and could assemble a shopping list quicker than anyone I've known. Mrs. Jeynes was a small lady with a lively personality - and a sharp tongue when required. Peggy was the image of her mother both in looks and manner, while Pat had a more rough and tumble sort of nature. Both girls could more than hold their own in banter with the young men of the village. But what I remember most were the dripping cakes. They were brought down to the shop every morning at about 8.30 from Denley's bakery.
I can still see Mr. Hatton in his white coat and baker's hat coming down the road with two big wooden trays balanced on his head. They sold out very quickly, but if you were lucky you could sometimes buy one before school. And I have to tell you, seriously, that you haven't lived unless you have tasted a freshly baked Denley dripper. They were nearly four inches square and an inch thick, with a brown crust which glistened with melted sugar, and a soft chewey centre saturated with hot dripping. True, you got into an awful mess when eating them, but for years afterwards my idea of heaven was a Denley dripper, hot from the oven, selected from the corner of the tray, and served by Peggy.
Opposite the shop was a black and white cottage where I think Mr. and Mrs. Minett lived, though I have an uneasy feeling that I may have put them and the Ballingers in each others houses - the memory is going, I knew it would. Then came Gotherington Lane. The Aston family lived a short way down here on the right. They ran a coal delivery business, still using a horse and cart when I first knew them. There were two sons. The eldest was Ray, who went on to serve in the Church Army, and Derek who was still at school. I liked him because he was good natured, and had a great sense of humour.
Denley's bakery was further along on the right. The business was run by Mr. and Mrs. Alick Denley until about the mid 1940s, when their son David gave up his job at Smiths and took it on. In pre-war days the family had also run a Tearoom and a Fun Fair which they had built on a field at the back. Sunday School groups and young families flocked here from all over the County, so I was told, to enjoy the roundabouts, the swingboats, and the helter skelter. My class was moved into the old tea rooms for a time and at playtime I often gazed through the fence at the ageing amusements and wished that they could be brought back to life.
I have happy memories of our time at Denleys. Here we were taught how to do joined-up writing for the first time, and here too the Americans threw a fabulous party for us one Christmas, with food that we didn't even know existed. My time at Cleeve school regretfully came to an end in 1946 when our class sat the dreaded Eleven-Plus exam. It was a tense time for us, though I think our parents suffered more than we did. My Dad, who had a superstitious streak, even gave me a little brass charm on the morning of the exam for luck. About half a dozen of our class passed that year. The only names I can remember are Esmie Reekie, Fred Pinder and Michael Kelly. My apologies to the others. To my complete astonishment my name was also on the list. This can only be down to the brass charm in my pocket because my arithmetic was abysmal.
Meadoway in about 1945
I was very sorry to lose contact with so many friends in the village. Some of them have featured in these notes, but there were many more whose names I've forgotten, or should I say, temporarily mislaid. Because if I sit quietly and think hard, then every so often another face and another name comes back to my mind: Bill Gaskins... Mary Surman... Alan Surman... Reggie Hill... Bill Agg... 'Spud'Taylor... Doreen Wasley... Rodney East... John Holmes... David Hatton... Joyce Melton... John Melton...
(Continues on next page)
last updated: 27/02/2009 at 19:01
Have Your Say
Does David Wilson's story bring back fond memories? What are your memories of Bishop's Cleeve?
Roger (Chad) Blake
Rachel Yardley (nee Eustace)
josie biggs (sharratt)
Jealous Kid, Priory Lane
Carol White, Winchcombe
Jim Evans (31 Meadoway)
Edward Billinghurst (Charlton Kings)
Thelma Halling , nee Eustace
Gladys Monger (nee Price)
Janet Mather (Yiend)
Vera Cruikshanks (nee Tanner)