I was born 1937 at Chillaton at a place called Hogstor Farm which wasn’t really a farm, my Dad went there to live. It was in an old track between two farms, between Chillaton and Milton Abbott. When I was born, my oldest brother was in the RAF, we never had a radio until he came home on leave one day and brought a Ferranti radio home, massive great thing, and we used to sit and listen to it. I was one of the youngest born at that place. When I was three years old I had terrible meningitis, was lucky to pull through it in them days but they did pull me through.
I went to Chillaton school. During the war I can remember I was 7 or 8 years old and many a time I’d come home from school and mother would say “you’d better take a ferret, boy, and go catch a rabbit or you won’t get any tea tonight else.” We used to live on rabbits; father used to shoot birds, starlings, we’d have starling pie, we lived on wild life in they days. Sometimes we would catch a lot and sometimes we’d only catch one. We used to eek it out, put a bit of bacon with it and what you could get during the war.
We always kept a pig, we’d kill a pig every 12 months. I can see mother down in the stream with all the innards of the pig all cleaned out to make our own sausages, hogs pudding. Actually it was a good life, a brilliant life! We’d go out, make our own cricket bat with a bit of wood; we didn’t have a ball just little stones. I got one in the eye; that’s the sort of life we lived in they days. All around us were big families and we played with other boys across the fields. Where I was born we had to take a bucket through the field to get our drinking water.
Dad had to leave the cottage after a falling out with the owner. He used to work for him one day a week. There was a court case but the court case came down on the farmer’s side. We moved up to a little place called Kelly. One of the Kelly family ancestors opened the Kelly College. They were a rich family, big estate, my brother was head gardener for a time after he came out of the army. He had to leave the army with malaria. We had a good life. Then 1957 I lost my job on the farm at Kelly and moved to Lydford. One of my other brothers used to work for a chap called Jim Higgins, his wife was sister to a man called Peter Brendon in Lydford. My brother came home one night and said “Sid, Peter Brendon’s wants a man up Lydford, give him a ring.” So I rang him and he said “Yes, if you are one of Frank Lake’s boys I’ll take you on tomorrow.” So I went to live with them in the village by the Chapel. I lived with them until I married this lady up here. I carried on working for the Brendon’s up until 2001, the foot and mouth. They lost all their cattle and sheep. There was no work to do so I retired early at 63. I’ve worked for different people around here gardening and one or two farmers.
When I was in Lydford in 1963 we had that awful winter, it was terrible. We spent a whole fortnight milking the cows morning and evening and the rest of the day was spent searching for sheep; they were buried in the snow. Though, touch wood, I think we only lost about a dozen altogether. In the snow where they are buried their warm breath makes a kind of cave, providing they have the air they have water dripping from the snow they can survive. Not all were buried but sheep always go to the edge and the snow comes up over them. We were lucky. Along the lane by the Dartmoor Inn there is a gate at the end of the lane and all the snow had blown in off the moor and the gate was absolutely buried. There was a drift about 20 foot high and I drove a tractor over that gate for about a fortnight. When the snow melted that gate wasn’t even cracked. The railway bridge toward Lydford there was a train stuck under the bridge for days before they could shift it. Oh, it was a terrible winter. We used to go out with a long stick and walk along the top of the drifts and keep prodding. If the stick went down quick you knew there was an animal there, then we would dig down and get the sheep out. That’s how they kept alive. You could, very often, see a tiny little hole and that’s where they got their breaths from. We kept about four hundred and lost about eleven or twelve.
The foot and mouth was terrible, I never want to see it again. I went into work one morning and these two cows were stood up but didn’t know which foot to stand on. I went to move them but they wouldn’t move their feet were so sore. So I called up Brendon and said “Look, I think we’ve got foot and mouth.” “Can’t have” he said, I said “well you’d better come out.” He said “I’ll send the vet right out, I can’t get there for about an hour but I’ll get there as soon as I can.” Within about three quarters of an hour about ten vets arrived to have a look at these cows. There was one young bullock, I got him in the cattle crush. The vet opened his mouth and went to catch hold of his tongue and his tongue just disintegrated. It was terrible. I never want to see that again. The people that owned the farm employed me to do the clean up for about a month. Then I came back here. For two nights I wasn’t allowed to leave the farm, they wouldn’t let me leave I had to sleep in the barn. I rang up Joyce and told her I wouldn’t be coming home. She said what’s the trouble and I told her we’ve got foot and mouth, “oh hell” she said.
Before that, I was going to work one morning working the cattle and went in to feed the young in one shed and there was one bullock lying down under the hay rack. I thought that don’t look right and I went to get him up and he wouldn’t get up so I called the vet and he came out. He had a massive great lump on his back end, so he took a sample of blood and one thing and another and two days later we had another cow with it and had to have them all slaughtered eventually. We couldn’t get it on insurance because it wasn’t a notifiable disease. They took away some hay, it was lovely summer hay, smelled nice but apparently there was something in the grass that had got to a certain stage that acted something like warfarin and that’s what killed all the cattle. It was what they call Sweet Fennel, it was growing in the grass. We cut the same fields for years but if it was cut at a certain stage it became poison. It was terrible that was. We couldn’t get any compensation, we just lost the lot. It was about 1984 I think it was, the boys didn’t want to carry on farming up there we packed it in. Frank down at the Fox and Hounds had this cottage that he had just renovated and asked us if we would like it so we took the cottage and been here since then. Nice little cottage barring the traffic, it’s a very fast road.
I started school at Chillaton Primary school, and then 1948 moved up to Kelly, we had to go to Lifton for a time right up to school leaving age. About that time the 11 plus came in so we had to go to Tavistock where I went for the rest of my school days until 1953. It was just after the king died, I know because we were supposed to have an early lunch because we were going to play football in Plympton. While we were having lunch we were told the king had died, we had to cancel the football which was annoying to all us boys because we had to go back into the classroom.
We used to play quite a lot of football in those days, up on Plaster Down, near Plaster Down, Greenlands. A team called Wescon United used to play there, it was made up from members of the Wesley and Congregational Churches. The Congregational Church was it Brook Street then, it had a massive great spire on it. In the back of that church was a little class where we used to have our woodwork lessens, chap called Mr. Brown used to teach us woodwork. We used to have to walk up Old Exeter Road and go over to Roborough where we used to have our lunch. Their Church was knocked down years ago. They had an old people’s home in part of it, just opposite where Woolworths used to be. For some reason the people that owned it stopped the old people from using it, I don’t know what the old people can use now in Tavistock. That was the day centre, they’ve done nothing with it, just shut it up.
I left school and went to work for a farmer at Kelly, they were rich people until he started gambling on the horses, he lost all the money and I had to leave. They sold up the farm a little while afterward. They were a rich family, his wife’s father was Admiral Sir Cecil Harcourt and his wife’s daughter married Squadron leader Sir Humphrey, can’t remember his name now, but they were a real rice family. Like I say he lost all the money gambling on horses. It was a lovely farm which is now owned by somebody called Chambers who sell bottled water all over the country, all over the world actually. There are lovely springs there, the farm was right in under a hill and all the springs used to come down and over a big cloth by the back door. I have come down and drunk the water, beautiful. That was Hall Farm at Kelly. Mr Chambers, I haven’t seen him for years, sells the water all over the world, he makes a fortune out of those springs.
I shall never forget, one day there we had an awful job, we had a big South Devon bull with massive horns. He got a 14 gallon water tank on his head and couldn’t get it off. He was going frantic. We eventually get him into one of the doors, big double doors, and got him in there and well he couldn’t see what we were doing luckily, two of us got one each side and took the tank off quick. He just stood there and looked at us, we got out the door quick.
One summer, they had an orchard at the back of the house and all the weed used to grow amongst the apple trees, I was sent up there one June or July, it was terrible hot summer and I was up there with just shorts on, no shirt, with a scythe cutting the weeds. I put the scythe right into a wasps’ nest. They were crawling all over me but I think only two stung me, one above the eye and the other in my ear. I just stood still and waited for them to settle down. They were crawling all over me, inside my shorts, only two stung me. I was damn lucky I was calm; my father said if I had flapped they would have stung me to death. I stood still until they settled down and went to their nest, then walked away. My eye swelled up, the doctor took the sting out. I didn’t do any more that day. The boss went up there in the evening, with some white powder, put it around the nest, put a bit of water on it and they would drop like flies. It used to steam when you put water on it, terrible poisonous stuff. I don’t know if you can still get it.
I can remember playing football in a place called Tintagel in late Spring, there was a wasp nest right in the middle of the pitch, they stopped the match, I wasn’t stopping there, I’d had one scare and that was enough, I was about 16 when I put the scythe through the nest.
When I was at school we had a garden, we used to do gardening, we kept bees. The chap who ran the garden was Mr. Quirk. The garden was where the big car park is now, that was the school garden through there. You go down by the river and go through a little door into the garden. It was lovely there. We used to grow quite a bit of stuff. I used to do a lot of gardening as kids. Some days father would go off to work and say “right boys, I want such and such a patch forked up and ready for me when I come home from work”, so you’d have to rush home from school and get it done because if it wasn’t done he’d go mad. We’d have to get the plot ready for him for potatoes, peas, whatever he was growing. He was very strict, but then he was a good father, he treated us all fairly. Seven boys and two girls, we all looked after each other.
I can remember we used to have a big chicken house, it was against a hard bank and there was a long root of a tree sticking out of the bank. I was climbing up on this root and slipped off and there was a sharp bit of wood stuck out from the corner of the chicken house and it went in my nose and out through my forehead. My brother was home on leave from the army and he threw my over his shoulder and carried me in, I was about six seven years old then. I’ve been through it all, meningitis when I was three and when I was about five we used to have a gate from the house that opened across a stream then it would fall shut again. Me and my brothers would push the gate open jump up on it and slam shut. Well I stepped down and smashed my leg. It took a long time to recover and even then flared up again very badly. I had mastoiditis in my ears when I was ten, my father being a little bit ignorant nearly killed me. He said he would stop the pain, he put some Sloane’s liniment and cotton wool in my ear. I was in such agony, they fought me as I tried to jump out of the window in the middle of the night. It drove me mad. I was rushed to hospital where I had my ears stringed. The doctor said it was the worst thing to have done. The meningitis left me with terrible migraines which where so severe it was like a mini stroke. I had to be carried into a dark room. I don’t get it very often now, only when in the car the sun flashes through the trees.
The house we lived in believe it or not was three rooms. There was one room which we used to hang our coats and whatever and there was a living room come kitchen come whatever. There was only that one big room, quite a big room, because we had a table the length of this room I should think. This big fire place was in the corner. Everything was done in that room, barring what was in the dairy. Father would kill a chicken it’d be hung up in the dairy for a day or two, like I say everything went in the dairy. We used to keep a couple of pigs and have a pig killed and it was put in salt water in trundles which was sort of half of a big beer barrel cut in half and used to fill them with salt water and put the pork in there. Every time we wanted a piece mother would take it out the day before and really wash it out in cold water to get all the salt out of it. Sometimes there would be other things put in there like rabbits and all sorts put in the salt water. If we caught a lot, mother would skin them and put them in the salt water and keep them for days. The pork would keep all winter in this dairy. It was so cold in there. The back of the house was steep, really steep, we used to get up there playing and sliding on the snow with a sledge come down over.
The lane from the farm house to the village went out through the side of the hill at one stage. When my youngest sister was born there was a nurse who used to drive a little old Austin Seven. However the car tipped over I don’t know, she was bigger than the car. How ever she got in the seat I don’t know, but the car went off the road and tipped over. She got out alright. I remember the little Austin Seven, father and the older boys went out and uprighted it again. I can see it now, poor old soul, she was nearly crying because she had tipped her car over, she was a massive woman!
The dairy was joined onto the house but you went down steps to the dairy. That’s why it was so cold because some days after a hard frost the slatted roof would drip when the frost was thawing out , ooh it was cold down there, father used to threaten us if we didn’t behave yourself he’d put us down in the dairy. I was threatened many times. “If you don’t behave yourself boy I’ll put you out in the dairy.”
Another place where I went to work Kelly, they had a dairy there which was down steps, there was a stream going through that one. Hall Farm at Kelly. It’s not a farm anymore someone called Mr. Chambers bought it. The people I used to work for they went bust because he lost all his money on the horses. He was always betting on the horses. Someone called Chambers bought it and there was a lot of springs coming out of the hill, he turned it into spring water, sells it all over the world. That was where the bull had the tank on his head.
The people I worked for to start with he was called Ian Murdock, he was ex naval man and his wife’s father was Admiral Sir Cecil Harcourt a big noise in the navy. Lady Harcourt, my father used to do a bit of gardening for her and she always paid him well over to odds because they had plenty of money but then her son in law Mr Murdock went and lost it all on the horses. He would go away every day from the farm somewhere to put bets on the horses, lost it all. They had to get rid of me and three months after I left they sold the farm. Lovely place, lovely house. The old lady Harcourt she was a lovely woman, so was the Admiral Sir Cecil, nothing bumptious about him, he would come out and sit with me and talk to you while you were doing the garden. He was very old then, lovely man.
My dad used to work on different farms and in the spring they would take the tails off the lambs with a pocket knife which you wouldn’t be allowed to do now a days. I remember my dad coming home with a bag full of lambs’ tails and mother would skin them out and looked nothing more than bone but she would make lambs’ tail pie with it, beautiful. And father would hang the skins up on the clothes line to attract the starlings, then he’d shoot the starlings to make a pie but you’d only use the breasts of them. This is what we had to do in the war, I don’t know how mum and dad coped actually, like I say, we were a family of eleven. There were four of us born during the war, well I was born two years before the war one of my brothers was born ’39 before the war started, it must have been hard work for her, hellish hard work.
She had this clay oven, she had to put the fire in and get it really hot and while it was getting hot she would make the cakes and bread or whatever she was making and put it in this clay oven, close the door and it would cook and it was beautiful. Beautiful when it come out. Then when mother was doing the washing there was a massive great fire in the fire place and she had an iron boiler which she used to hang on crooks. She used to boil all the white clothes in that, they used to boil it back in they days. A crook used to be a bar so far up the chimney with notches on them so you could lift them higher or lower, the old fashioned crooks. She used to lift this boiler full of water onto it and put the sheets and everything in, pillow cases all the white clothes and boil it. Then she would take it out and wring it by hand and take it outside and rinse it in cold water. Outside was a massive great granite trough and she used to rinse all the clothes in that. Really hard work. That boiler must have weighed a ton. I can also remember, one of my brothers was in the army, I was still going to school and he came home on leave and mother had made a big pudding full of meat and potatoes and onion and she used to wrap it in a cloth, tie both ends and put it in the boiler over the fire. I can remember coming home and my brother said it’s cooking boys. I can see it now, that pudding when it came out of the cloth it like it was all soggy but the gravy would run out of it, it was beautiful, beautiful it was. Sometimes she would put a bit of mint in it, if she had a bit of lamb she would put a bit of mint in it. We had a wonderful time actually, considering what we had to go through.
We used to have to walk about a mile and a half from where we lived to Chillaton School, we had to go through a wood a bit scary sometimes when it was dark. Because in they days you didn’t come out of school till four o clock. Now they come out about half past three I should think. I caught a bus back from Tavistock the other day half past three, it was full of school children. I had a bit of an upset on the bus, well, it wouldn’t have happened in my day, my father would have crucified me, there was about twenty five children on there and when I got on the bus at Lawsons there were about ten older people standing up and I had to stand up. Not one of those children got up, so I wrote a letter to the principle. My father would have crucified me. We did do better in the country, we never starved we had plenty of rabbits around. The greatest fun of all was harvest time ‘cos back in those times we used to cut the corn with an old binder and the shearers used to come out and there would be about thirty kids. Teenagers would gather in the fields when they were cutting corn ‘cos the rabbits were running everywhere. We used to run after the rabbits and catch them, great fun. If you see a rabbit come out and chased it, it would go in under a sheaf and if you flopped down on the sheaf you’d catch the rabbit. Great fun. We would climb trees as high as we could get up to pull out the crows’ nests, you aren’t allowed to do that nowadays, crows are protected birds. They were a problem, they would eat all the corn you put out for the chickens. So father would send us out to rob all the nests. Like I said he used to shoot all these starlings and use the breast for starling pie.
I can’t remember my grandparents. I can remember one grandparent, and that was mother’s father. Albert Piper. He was farming in a place called Coryton not far from Chillaton. One of his sons, mother’s brother, he was also called Albert Piper, he was buried about six years ago. He lived in Tavistock, he was ninety eight when he died. I can just remember grandpa Piper but I can’t remember any of my grannies. I can remember my father’s brother, he ran away from home when he was fourteen, long before I was born, he joined the navy. He went in the First World War and had ships blown up under him and survived all that. 1939 they called him back as a reservist and he went through the Second World War and had more ships blown up under him. He had a terrible scar on one side of his face. I think it was on the day after or two days after he came out of the navy 1947 or 48 he used to live at Gunnislake, he cycled from there across to Lamerton to see his other brother and was killed on his push bike by a lorry. Outside the Blacksmith Arms. His son in law was Albert Rouse who built a new house at Sand Hill at Gunnislake. He had a big contracting business and he used to go round at one time building sewers and reservoirs and different things, massive business he had. He’s died now, nice man. Captain of the Tavistock Golf Club at one time. Brilliant golf player but didn’t have time to play often.
The water board came to Lydford to take a pipe line to an old cottage way over Old Lane. They had a JCB, end of February beginning March after the big freeze, they dug down two foot and there was still ice two foot down in the ground. It froze so hard ’63 that was. We spent a week or fortnight going round the fields just digging out sheep. We used to have a long stick and push it down in the snow and if it went quick you would know it was hollow under and you would dig down and get the sheep out. With their breathing it was like a little cave in under. It was hard work. Some had come in from Dartmoor and come on over the fields and were buried in the road just below Dartmoor Inn. That road was completely blocked, that’s why I had to drive up the lane and over the top of this gate to get into our fields. There was a drift up against the hedge out moor side and they were walking out over and dropped down inside. At the top of Lydford there was no snow at all, it had all blown in. There was a chap working out at a quarry, little short chap, came from Bodmin and he was driving a big machine out the quarry, and he came in and cleared the road from the Fox and Hounds to the Dartmoor Inn and when he got to the Dartmoor in he had to turn right back it just filled in behind him it was blowing that fierce. Kerbs ford the quarry was called you can see it from outside my back door. I can’t remember what he was called, we went to Bodmin with the bell ringers a few years after we met him walking down the street. He was a little short chap and when he wasn’t clearing the roads he would be in the pub and he would drink all night long, pints and pints that man would drink. Lovely fellow.
My eldest brother was in the Air Force, I think he went into the Air Force before the war stated, he was at least twenty years older than I was, his name was Roy, Roy Stanley John, then he came out of the Air Force there was a threshing company Liverton near Coryton, he went to work on the threshers driving the tractor pulling the threshers around and he drove the old steam engine that used to pull them around back in they days. I think he was about 46 or 47 when he died he wasn’t that old, people did die younger back in they days.
His wife, Julie, she only died about twenty years ago I should think. She was a nice girl too. Went up to Bridgwater to the wedding. Our father was still living then, he died young, he had a brain tumour and was only sixty three. He had to come out of the First World War because he had a shell in his knee. He had a big scar. He never talked about it much, sometimes, Christmas Eve we would be round the fire and he would come out with tales about the war but not often. He was in the home guard as well and one of my other brothers was in the home guard, he would come home from work and change into the uniform and go out with a pitch fork or shot gun, I remember my dad telling me about the home guard but never mentioned the war much. ‘Twas hard times but we enjoyed it. We had plenty of places to play, climbing trees, chasing rabbits, shooting foxes.
My oldest sister, I don’t really know what happened, she went a little bit off the rails. They had to put her in a home, Starcross, she was there for years, never seen a lot of her. My youngest sister lives at a little place called Over Wallop which is near Andover. I went up to see her not many months ago. When she started work after school she was a silver waitress in the Newmarket Hotel in Tavistock. It’s no longer a hotel. She met a man and he was area salesman for the whole of the west of England including South Wales for Hales Cakes. She had two sons, when Eddy was 38 he collapsed and died. One of the fittest men you could ever wish to see. He used to come to Lydford to play cricket and all sorts. All of a sudden collapsed with a heart attack and died. She was left with two young boys. She met another man who was chairman of the council at Andover, they are happily living together. They’ve been all over the world, he’s a very rich man and they get on well.
My wife was a lovely woman, in 1966 she was married to a chap called Russell Friend, they had four boys. I used to know Russell very well, he was a lovely man. I was at a whist drive one Tuesday down at Lydford and was just going to start the whist drive and somebody come in the door to speak to me ‘cos I was friendly with Russell. He said Sid, I’ve got some bad news, Russell Friend just been killed by a tractor. Two of the boys was on the trailer coming down across the field, apparently he shouted to them to jump off, they jumped off the back and it all turned over. Whether he swerved to miss a dog nobody will ever know. I left the whist drive with a chap called Les Evans he said come on Sid we’ll see what we can do, well, we got up there and the police and everything were there so we couldn’t do a lot. Didn’t want to interfere too much, just spoke to Joyce and comfort her, spoke to the boys. Then six months after she came to see me to know if I could come up the weekend and do a few odd jobs around the farm. We eventually got together and married in 1969 and I took on the four boys. I knew her long before I came to Lydford actually, when I went to school in Tavistock we used to have Mid Devon Sports between Tavistock School and Okehampton. Joyce was at Okehampton School and she took part in the sports and that’s where I met her first. At fourteen she was as grey as she is in her picture on the wall over there. We were married just over forty years, we went to Perranporth for week for our wedding anniversary. She hadn’t been too well up to then. The week after we had to go to a wedding at Two Bridges Hotel. We were at the reception eating when all of a sudden she said Sid I can’t swallow. I said what’s the trouble, she said I don’t know, she could hardly speak. They got a doctor and took her to Derriford hospital. She had leukaemia. The hospital treated her but she died soon after. She was a lovely woman, do anything for anybody.
The Americans were billeted just over the road from Chillaton School, when we were out in the playground they used to line up outside the wall and give us candy, I remember the head master wasn’t very happy about it, he was called Mr. Jackman, then they threw a bag for him, he was alright afterwards, he took them home to his own children is suppose. It was quite funny these yanks, back in they days all the Dartmoor ponies used to be able to come right inland, roads not fenced off, and they used to be right around Chillaton. I remember the Americans would trap them in the corner of a field then one would go and jump on the back of it and ride it around until he got threw off and then another would try. When you come up from Chillaton to Tavistock there is an awful left hand corner called Wind Whistle corner, and the other side of the road the bank is only a couple of foot high. They used to come up the road and deliberately drive their jeeps over the bank, couple of them got seriously injured but they used to do it for fun. We used to live at the bottom so we was able to watch them outside our door. You could see them shouting and bawling. Some would get thrown out of the land rover and the other would drive off and leave him behind. Oh, we used to have great fun!
There was a man called Percy Blythe and his son, they were carpenters in Chillaton and they were also funeral directors, they used to make coffins and everything, my father always used to say, you can always tell when someone’s dead in Chillaton because Percy Blythe is whistling. Normally he looks miserable as sin.
My father worked damned hard, there were nine of us, through though the war and after the war were pretty hard times. Up the back of where we used to live, Hogs Tor Farm, it went up steep then levelled off and there were some mine shafts there. I think they used to mine ochre. It’s yellow and they used to send it to London where people used to make paint with it.
Somebody came to father; somebody that owned the mines wanted them filled in. Everything from the mines had been piled up around the mine shaft. I think I was about eight or nine years old but I still had to go with him, all the boys in the family big enough to handle a shovel or a pick had to go up and help him weekends and evenings, he did that after he had done his other jobs. When we started we used to take our empty bottles up there and throw down the mine. You would hear them go ‘Ping’, a proper ring when they hit the bottom. It was great fun really but hard work.
I can remember one day I was fetching water or something, my other brothers were catching rabbits with the ferret. Father was chopping wood to light the fire and he put the axe right through his knuckle. Dr. Postlewhite came and stitched it all together in the kitchen. He had a box and he had his needles in there what he did injections with. He took out a needle to do the injection, I can remember him saying to mother “the needles a bit rusty”. He literally put it on the granite stone and put his foot on it and rubbed the rust off it. Well, they’d be struck off for doing that nowadays! He injected my father and everything was alright.
I can remember, I can’t think who it was, coming out from Hogs Tor Farm the track was cut into the side of the hill, can’t think who it was but somebody with an Austin Seven, a little square box type Austin Seven, went off the track and rolled it down over. Father and older brothers and us little ones went out and got it back on its wheels again. Then they had a rope, put it round the tree and gradually pulled and pushed until they got it back on the track.
Father dug a pit for the chap at Chillaton garage for a new petrol tank. The pit was 8ft x 5 ft x 6ft deep, he dug it all with a pick and shovel. When he got down deeper he would throw the earth up over the sides then climb out and wheel it away with a wheel barrow so he could throw out some more. Hard work. When he had a big pile of it he borrowed a horse and cart from Frank Davey and carted it away somewhere, can’t think where he took it.
A chap called Horace Doige used to own the garage. When I started at Dolvin Road School in Tavistock, she used to come from Chillaton to Kelly, we had moved up to Kelly then, to take us to Chillaton to catch the bus; she used to drive the taxi. She used to run a fair sized taxi back then, big Austin job, and I used to sit in the front and she used to put the clutch in and ask me to change gear. I’ve done it hundreds of times; sometimes I’d grate the gears and she’d say “Now then Sid, forwards”. She’d put the clutch in and I’d change gear for her. Dolvin Road School was a secondary modern school back then it’s now a primary school. It turned into a primary school when they built Tavistock College, that was the grammar school where the college is now. A little further up Plymouth Road there was a school there and that was the old grammar school. Dolvin Road used to use it for metal work. We had to walk down there for metal work class and walk back again and the girls had a domestic science room there, they used to do the cooking there. It’s now the Alexander Centre. The woodwork room was in the old Congregational church at the back. We used to go up old Exeter Road for our lunch, we all used to have to walk double file all the way from Dolvin Road over Abbey Bridge turn down by the river and come up by a pub called The White Hart. It’s now a big pasty shop. Good old days. Then some of us would go around the town afterwards, sometimes rush back to school and get the football out. One day I went back to school with a chap called Peter Hawkin, he lives down at Horrabridge now. We got back to school and got the football out and were kicking it up against the head masters office door; all of a sudden the door opened, we didn’t know he was in there. The ball went in and broke the telephone, we had the cane for that, six across each hand. They used to cane us in those days they wouldn’t be allowed to do it now. Mr. Bastin he was called. Quite a nice chap really but if you annoyed him you knew all about it. I keep meaning to go to Horrabridge to find Peter, he was a lovely boy, a lovely mate he was. One of the best left footers I’ve ever seen in my life, he would kick the ball with the left foot all the time, never used the right. Scored a lot of goals for the school, Peter did.
A lady, Mrs Wroth, used to make lovely saffron buns. After we used to come out of school on baking day she would be outside with a plate full of them for us kids to have a saffron bun. Lovely days. She used to live in a house and one room of the house was used by the doctor once a week. He used to come from Lifton to Chillaton and have a surgery once a week. She was a wealthy woman, lovely woman, so kind to everybody, sometimes if she had too much cake over she’d put it in a basket and we had to take it home to mother and make sure it did get home to mother. Back in those days there was no milkman, nobody delivered milk, we used to have to walk down to Chillaton village and go up a steep hill and there was a farm up top. We used to get our milk up there in a milk can – it’d hold about six pints or something like that. On the way home one day, my younger brother was swinging the can and the handle came off, we had to go back and get another lot. When mother had the bill for the milk said what’s all this then, what happened to the milk? She went and saw Gilbert and he said they went away with a can full and within half an hour they were back for another can full, they had wasted it. He let us have a can.
Somebody called Billy Bickle was the local butcher and also had a little slaughter house which was in the lane to our house. We used to stop there when he was there after he had killed a bullock or sheep or pig whatever. We used to watch him dress them down and he was a family butcher. He’d save all the bones for mother and father and I can see mother now scraping all the meat off the bones and stewing it. With nine of us things had to be done as cheap as possible. His wife used to have the village stores, sold everything from Oxo to pots of jam, everything.
It was quite a big shop, she had three girls work for her, three sisters. One was called Nettie, one was called Fiona and can’t think what the third one was called. Three lovely sisters. Their father used to farm just up over from our place, his last field used to run up next to our back yard. He was called Jimmy Murren. He had a son called Lester, if I remember rightly. He was a pilot in the war. He came out of the Air Force and I think he took over as manager of the Ambrosia milk factory. I’ve got a feeling he was killed on a motor bike going to and fro from Chillaton to Ambrosia. They were a lovely family.
Christmas was pretty good really, as good as it is now. Now it’s got so commercialised, back then we never had all the presents, we probably had a game of Ludo or snakes and ladders between two or three of us, never had a lot of presents. We used to sit down beside the fire, father would tell us all the tales of the First World War and different things, we used to enjoy it. We used to get up to mischief sometimes. My youngest brother and I took a hook and went looking for holly for Christmas, couldn’t find any holly. We were in somebody’s field, he was called John Lethbridge, we took a ball tap off a water trough and started playing football with it, of course we bent it a bit and couldn’t get it back on. There was water everywhere. Not long after we got home John Lethbridge was down to see father and father had to pay for someone to get a new ball tap to put on. We were kicking it around the field and bent it so much we couldn’t get it back on again. These are the things you remember don’t you. I can’t ever remember going to church when we lived at Chillaton. When we moved to Kelly we went to church occasionally because there was a church just down the road but from where we lived at Chillaton we had to go along lanes, through woods and then through Chillaton village. The church was halfway between Chillaton and Coryton which was about four miles from where we lived so we hardly ever went to church. The only time I can remember going to church was when my Uncle Jim was buried; went to a funeral then, I think I was about ten years old.
Our main day out as a family was August bank holiday. Father and mother would take us from where we lived at Chillaton to Lewdown. We used to go down to Coryton and up through an old bridle path through the wood and come out at Lophill. It was Lewdown sports day, farther had a cousin there who lost both legs in the First World War, he was in a wheel chair and father used to take him to the sports day with us kids. We used to have a great time. That was our annual day out, the only day that father and mother took us out. Coming back through Chillaton in the evening father would stop and have a half a pint of beer, that was the only time I ever saw him have half a pint of beer. That was his day out as well, stop at the pub and have half a pint of beer and all us kids would sit on the stones outside. I’ve never seen him drink alcohol other than sherry maybe at Christmas, one of the older boys would probably bring home a bottle of sherry and he would have a sip of sherry but never known him go to a pub, couldn’t afford it I suppose.
I started off playing cricket for Kelly when I was about thirteen years old, I suppose when they were short. I was home one Saturday, midday, Kelly hadn’t got a cricket match, the squire Michael Kelly pulled up outside our gate in his little Morgan sports car. Comes striding up the path, real toff he was. He knocked on the door, mother answered, he said “is Sidney in?”
Mother said yes, then called “Sidney, Squire Kelly wants you”. I went to the door, he said what are you doing this afternoon because we need you to play cricket for Launceston. He said Launceston was playing at St. Austell and they are two short, could you come. I was about fourteen then I suppose. I said I can’t really, my whites are out on the clothes line, mothers just washed it. Well never mind about that, I’ve got a pair of whites for you. He said I’ll slip back and get another car and pick you up. His Morgan was only a single seater. He came back and said I’ve just been over to see Edward Cockrell, he’s quite a player as well, about the same age as me, he said he’s going as well. So we went down to St. Austell. Didn’t do any good, I had a duck first ball and Edward had two I think. But we made up the numbers. Then when I left Kelly, I came to Lydford, I was 20 then, I started playing for Lydford. That was usually Wednesday nights and Saturdays. Then one or two of the Lydford boys started playing for Tavistock Wayfarers. They asked me if I would play Sundays. I said I don’t mind I’ve nothing else to do Sunday afternoons. We used to go all up around North Devon, Torquay, all sorts of places playing for Tavistock Wayfarers; great times we had. Their ground is just up from Whitchurch.
I used to play football as well, wasn’t that good at football, I used to make up the numbers at Lifton sometimes but didn’t play regular. Lifton had such a good side. They had three German prisoners used to play for them. Digmar, a little tiny chap but brilliant and two others. One called Scwizer, he was a massive man. 6ft and wide as he was tall.
They had a young boy who played on the left wing and he played football for all England cadets. I haven’t seen him for a long time but he was crippled up in both knees, all to do with football. Lovely boy, Chipper Chapman. We called him chipper because he was a carpenter by trade. The footballers today earn so much but grumble about playing two matches. I can remember Lifton one season, with bad weather the matches got so congested they played six matches in eight days.
When I was in my teens I used to cycle from Kelly to Tavistock, meet up with some mates then cycle to Plymouth Saturday afternoons. Back in then you used to chuck your bike up against a wall and it would be there when you got back, but you wouldn’t today. Used to have a good time in Plymouth then cycle home again, get home about one or two in the morning. I can remember coming home later than that once, father was coming down the stairs to go to work he said where have you been all night. He said are you going to work, I said no I’m going to bed I don’t have to work on a Sunday. He would, he would work seven days a week, he had to I suppose to keep the family going. I can remember coming back through Horrabridge one night from Plymouth , chap called David Rogers came off his bike and broke his leg. We had to find someone to help us get an ambulance to get him to hospital. When I was 17 I met a girl from Princetown; how did we meet? Four girls used to come in from Princetown to Tavistock on a Saturday, they used to come in by taxi. Taxi run by somebody called Finch. They always got out of their taxi over on Bedford Bridge. Four of us made a point of being there when the taxi came in. I went out with one of them for quite a while, we got engaged really when I was about eighteen. She worked for a Commander Gunner who lived in a big house at Buckland Monachorum. He was being moved to Falmouth and he wanted Esther Perkins, the girl I was engaged to, to go with him. She was a lovely girl, we got on really well together but she wanted me to go to Falmouth and live down there. I said no, I’ve got no work down there. Up until two years ago I had a Christmas card from her. Her father was a prison officer, lovely girl. I used to cycle from Kelly twice a week which was a long haul. Gave up going to Plymouth then. Lovely family. I can see the house where they lived now next to a big fields then a big forest. Many a time we walked through the forest to a little pub in Hexworthy. I used to go out that way when we took our sheep’s wool to Buckfastleigh. Joyce’s mother is still living at 104 at Bridestowe.
My father used to fill in the old ochre mines, I can’t tell you who came and asked him if he could do it, he said yes he could do it and we used to go and help him. All the stuff that they took out when they dug the mines was all around but was covered in brambles. We had to cut all the brambles. Oh, my father worked hard. He got through the First World War, he got a shell in his knee, he had a lot of trouble in his knees afterwards. We had a garden half way up the hill, he used to load the wheelbarrow with farmyard manure, he had the handles and had a rope on the front and us boys had to pull to get the manure up to the garden. I can remember going up there one day and somehow damaged a nail, it was half hanging off. He said, come here Sid, he took out his pocket knife and took the nail off then wrapped it in his handkerchief. It was a bit painful but he did it so quick. That’s the way people lived back in those days, the jobs just had to be done. I can see the garden now all fenced around, we used to have a lot of rabbit traps around. He had a line of rhubarb down by the side of the fence, he used to grow some beautiful rhubarb. He was a good gardener.
When we were at Chillaton he used to work at different places every day, he used to do gardening for different people. When we moved to Kelly he still kept those jobs which were three and a half miles away. He used to leave in the mornings with his tools on his shoulder, go to Chillaton, do a days’ work and carry all his tools home again. Walk all the way, up hill and down dale. I can see him now with his picks and shovels, a bag with his hook in. He was just five foot seven or eight, a little short man and very fit. He had a lot of trouble with his knees, you would be very surprised when I tell you what he used to take for the pain. An old gipsy man told him. A thimble full of neat paraffin, not liquid paraffin, ordinary paraffin that you put in the lamps and a spoonful of jam to follow. This is as true as I sit here, he reckoned that used to stop the pain. I can remember my older brother saying, “for God’s sake don’t light your pipe father!” He was hard, he was a hard father but he was fair. If you did something wrong you were punished, and if you did something right he would praise you. He was good, mother was as well.