Memories – 1920s to 1940s

This photograph taken outside the Western Coach House Inn shows a village procession to celebrate the Coronation of King Edward VII on 15th June 1902. They have walked from St Peter’s Church along Church Road to the junction with Bristol Road. All are wearing hats; the ladies’ skirts are long; most men have a beard or moustache; the carriageway is stony and narrow. The Parish poor-house built in 1824 is at centre back.

ALBERT born 1910

‘All roads were stony tracks when I was young’ said Albert, ‘I remember rocks delivered by horse & cart from Chipping Sodbury quarry and dumped at the roadside to be hammered into stones by council workers like Stan Green, who then spread them for a firmer surface. Some folk had bicycles since pedals with chain, and pneumatic tyres were a recent invention, after the penny farthing.’

Albert recalls the first car seen in the village, driven by GP Dr Crossman. ‘It was a brass-nosed Morris Cowley, with carriage springs and I remember headlamps attached to the mudguards each illuminated with a candle. The logo badge portrayed a red cow.’

Albert’s Dad Peter had 4½ acres of plum orchards. Peter would leave home with horse & cart to deliver fruit by 6am to Roland Adams, market-trader in Bristol. In the 1930s, ships with refrigeration started importing foreign fruit so the market for home fruit diminished. One day 17cwt of plums could not be sold so was tipped into the docks , a month’s wages, and soon afterwards the fruit orchards were rooted out.

Albert recalls riding the horse to village blacksmith Tom Clarke, to be fitted with new shoes. His small yard and forge were opposite the ‘Rising Sun’ pub.

Group Photograph, 1902
Click to see a larger image (56 KB)

Victorian Gentlemen who organised Coronation festivities in 1902. Rows A – D from the back A2 – Rev FW Griffiths. A3 – Curtis – undertaker. A4 – Blackmore. A7 – Henry Harding -meteorologist. B5 – Gibbs – farmer. B8 – Tom Holder – plum grower. C4 -John Tanner Green- Bethel School Super. C5 – Dr R Egar – Superintendant Northwoods. C8 -Tom Hardwicke – farmer. D5 – Tom Holder – colliery foreman.

MARGARET born 1928

Margaret remembers each Whit Monday when children from churches, chapels, and gospel hall, assembled at ‘ The Hallelujah Spot’ (where Salvation Army held ‘Open Airs’ before Sunday Services), to follow the Army band singing ‘Bread of Heaven ‘ en route to a field at Rose Green for the inter-Church Sports.

Margaret’s early years were at a cottage in Stone Close built by her grandfather, John Tanner Green – who purchased this plot 1874 with a bid of £30 plus a guinea legal fees. Mr Green was Sunday School Superintendent at Bethel chapel for 40 years.

People whom Margaret remembers include :– Mr Wathen because he had a hump-back, and came each quarter to receive people’s rates. Two Miss Roberts, in black robes, who bred pedigree cats which were sent to customers by rail. Mr Appleby was the School Attendance Officer. Mr Pullin charged-up accumulators for valve wireless sets, before mains’ radios were available.

Ernie Newman, was the village milkman who doled milk with a ladle from his pail to fill the jugs , and each Saturday Margaret took turns to ride in his horse & cart amongst the churns.

IAN born 1927

Ian was youngest of six children living with parents William & Florence at Vine Cottage, (home to Joseph Foote who had emigrated to Australia). In the 30s drainage went into a septic tank, there was no electricity and the toilet was at bottom of the garden, so a candle was needed in winter, although often the wind blew out the light. With the older siblings at work, it was Ian with his sister Muriel who went to Brockeridge School when Charlie Tipton was Headmaster. Ian recalls –

‘Whenever it rained the cart tracks of the butcher, baker and milkman churned the surface of Foote’s lane into a shallow swamp so we learned where to walk and where to cross, but however careful our shoes were always mired in mud. We came home after school down Exchange Lane, named after the labour exchange at its junction with Brockeridge Hill, passing Jack Dutfield’s, which was the only house built into the hillside. In those days the lane consisted of large loose stones interspersed with boulders, and as we jumped from one to the other there was often a mishap. I remember seeing white sheets blowing on the lines, the smell of bread and cake just out of the oven, and even stew and dumplings later in the week. This hill was even more dangerous in the dark, though at the bottom was a friendly pinpoint of light from Mrs England’s cottage window, ‘Dingun’ we called her. The curtains were never pulled in her sitting room as though on purpose, so that light brought us safely to the bottom.

At Christmas the gypsies came to our house with holly and mistletoe instead of clothes pegs. They were always invited in for a festive drink of mother’s home-made wines. I recall gypsies dancing in the kitchen and partying as though they were family, and in a sense they were. As we grew up I learned that my father was cousin to Gypsy Smith, the world-renowned evangelist. I vividly remember his visits to Vine Cottage when he was home from America with his immaculate silver-grey wavy hair. I was reminded of the Gypsy connection every time I looked at my older sister Molly. She had a sallow complexion with jet-black hair. There was always a family party on Boxing Day, which was Mother’s birthday. Molly wore huge earings (as big as curtain rings), and with her long black hair swept back, high cheek bones rouged, she became a beautiful Romany.

My younger sister Muriel recounts a time when I was punished for being horrible to her, that I hid under the table. After drying my tears I emerged to make the defiant declaration ‘when I grow up I’m going to be a preacher’. For the record, I became a Methodist Minister, spending the first eight years in Kenya before and during the Mau Mau terrorist campaign of the 1950s. With my wife and two young boys we lived in Kikuyu in the Kiambu district for over two years, but that’s a different story’.

RICHARD born 1935

Richard attended Brockeridge School in 1940s when Mr Roberts was Headmaster and all the teachers were Welsh, Miss Griffiths, Miss Rees, and Mr Jones. Across the road the garden plots were cultivated by the children and it was here that the school caretaker dug a trench to empty the toilet buckets . Once a week the older children cycled 3 miles to Whiteshill School where boys did woodwork and the girls cookery. Richard was in School first XI for soccer and cricket , playing matches on Saturday morning.

Householders collected water from a village pump at The Ridge until 1949 when mains water was connected to homes. Not till the 1950s did villagers have flush toilets, a bath with hot tap, electric lighting in place of oil lamps, and a mains radio. The Co-op store in Woodend Road sold groceries and haberdashery and the Co-op butchers and a hardware store were just opposite. Bakery ovens were housed in The Ridge, while upstairs was the Co-op Hall used for social events.

Richard remembers Gilbert Moseley, a collier, but he was also a learned man. He helped people write their Will, or fill in Tax forms, and he advised them about legal or social matters, all for free. Sadly he was killed in a rock fall at the mine shortly before it closed in 1949.

Each house had an outside bucket lavatory, with contents dug into the garden as compost. This continued until 1949 when mains’ sewers were installed in the village.

JEAN born 1928

Jean’s grandparents’ house was built in the early 1900s with yellow brick quoins , since surplus engineering bricks were available during construction of Sodbury tunnel in early 1900s. The large faced stones for a house frontage, or to pave a kitchen floor were brought by cart from Tytherington quarry.

Jean remembers Bill Burcombe, a herbalist who lived in Alexandra Road, and he would be seen on his bicycle picking fresh herbs. He used stinging nettles for blood disorders, and elderflower for sunburn. Mining families paid him pennies for these herbal cures because before the National Health Service they couldn’t afford to visit the doctor.

Jean’s parents kept pigs, as did many householders. Dan Luton had a Butcher’s shop in Ryecroft Road opposite the British Legion. When a villager’s pig was fat, Dan Luton killed and dressed the animal then kept half the carcass in payment, which was sold in his shop.