My schooling in North Devon from 1939 to 1945 was firstly at the old Ilfracombe Grammar School, then to a tutor, then back to the Grammar School and finally to Adelaide College.
On the left-hand side was a large building [still there], which was the boys' school. As you entered there were the toilets and place to hang coats and a very large room where all ages and classes were taught, with a staircase to a smaller room, which was used occasionally for exams, etc.
Heating was provided in both rooms by means of coke stoves. Everywhere had bare boards. The Principal was Miss Warrell Bowring, and her sister, Miss Ella, who looked after the domestic side - cooking the lunches and cleaning, etc. Miss Keeble taught Geography and Maths and Mr. A.H. Stevenson was the Headmaster.
Lunch was eaten around a very large table over the road at the main house and Miss Warrell Bowring would sit at the head. There was no speaking unless she spoke to you first. After lunch we returned to the room across the road. Until we started lessons and our 'lookout' saw Mr. Stevenson pushing his bicycle up the hill, it was bedlam! Paper darts flew everywhere and we played football - I managed to break a window which cost me ten shillings [50p]. Once the lookout saw Mr. Stevenson was getting near, whoever was wearing his gown put it back and a silence fell over the room. By the time he arrived we were sitting at our desks as good as gold! If caught doing anything untoward, several strokes of the cane in front of everyone was the punishment.
The coke stove was fascinating in that we would overload it, making the lid red hot and on one occasion someone put a bullet in it, which on exploding made the circular lid jump up. The stove in the upstairs room was often knocked from its mountings [but replaced], when those inside would barricade themselves in and those outside would force the door open.
One winter, the wooden gymnasium in the grounds collapsed due to a heavy fall of snow but we did have the use of a nice tennis court. Miss Warrell Bowring would take singing lessons and there were exercises to music.
So that the boys and girls could get to know one another, a dance was held in the big house. The music was provided by an even-then very old gramophone complete with horn, which was loud enough for us all to enjoy.
Despite all I have written, concentration was on the three 'R's' and as far as I know, everyone who attended the College left with sufficient education to make a good job of their lives.
Sadly, the old school was sold off and houses now occupy the site, but in my memory it was a fine old mansion with flowing lawns and beautiful gardens.
My last memory of Miss Warrell Bowring was when I visited her after the War and she treated me to some of her home-made stinging nettle beer - not to be recommended!
Tony Beauclerk -
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES - HOLIDAYS
The first holiday I can remember was probably when I was about three years old. We were staying at Clacton and spending a lot of time on the beach. There was a man who organised any children around into doing exercises and marching. This was all right until I stepped out of line and in trying to get me back into place, he pushed me over. Well, kids of three don't like being pushed over, even if the sand makes a good landing and being three, I didn't have far to fall. Anyway, a good cry to mum seemed to clear the matter up.
Other holidays seemed to follow the 'beach for half the day' pattern almost regardless of the weather. I recall swimming on overcast days when the water was cold and the sea quite rough. I think it must have been the time when the British kept a stiff upper lip.
When 1939 came we were on holiday at Slade. Then the war came and we continued in Berrynarbor until January 1946. Although I was at school, it was nevertheless a bit like one long holiday - village life, the scenery and a chance to roam about getting into mischief and scrumping!
Moving back to Upminster after the war, we developed an interest in caravanning. This was mainly at Cromer in Norfolk. A lovely spot, but the winds can be cold up there! For several years we went back and never missed the pier pavilion shows, and of course visited Sheringham Wells and Blakney Point where there were a lot of seals.
In 1976 we went to Broughty Ferry near Dundee in Scotland. It was a heat wave and real shirt sleeve weather. Not a drop of rain fell for the whole holiday. Our accommodation was the house of friends whilst they took their caravan away. There are certainly some hills there! I remember going up Cairn o'Mount. We went up and up and up and eventually came to a signpost pointing to the summit, it was another 1200 feet! Another year we went to Betws-y-Coed in Wales and being of a sweet tooth, my memory here is of candy floss and rock! Now, what's the name of that Welsh place that goes on and on? Heck, if only they made local rock there it would be as thick as a rolling pin!
Other holidays followed in places as far apart as Skegness, Hastings and the south coast, Bournemouth, Lands End and Looe in Cornwall. We had a trip up the river at Looe and it was heavenly, sighting such things as kingfishers and clusters of heron's nests and their occupants - a magical experience of nature's peace and tranquillity.
Now we always seem to leave the arrangements for a holiday to the last minute and this year was no exception. Shall we stay at home and let our minds wander, or shall we go away?
Every fortnight in the national press, a certain hotel not far from Berrynarbor advertises with a picture of the Hangman Hills as a view from the hotel. This, of course, always catches my eye - I think it must have a
magnetic effect. Just by chance, our youngest son and his wife, having missed a holiday in Spain, suggested that we holiday together, which we thought was a good idea and told him to go ahead and make the arrangements. He located a little place called Eastleigh not far from Bideford. The accommodation was a nicely furnished home which backed on to fields. It was a lovely holiday and of course it enabled Betty and me to come back to Berrynarbor with its church, manor hall and many, many happy memories.
Bless you Berrynarbor.
Illustrated by: Paul Swailes
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
My only experience of the flying bomb was just after World War II. Gerald, my half-brother, had lived in a house at Snaresbrook until he was seven and he and I went up to Essex from Berrynarbor just after the War. He had heard that the old house had been hit by a flying bomb and suggested we might visit the site. Which we did. A fairly large part of the bomb was still lying in the back garden, although a large part of the house had been blown out. Nevertheless, the staircase was still intact and we ventured upstairs where Gerald was able to see his old bedroom. What a shame, the lovely old house was ruined. We wandered around other parts which were intact, but it was in a dangerous state and I'm sure Gerald's feeling must have been very sad.
Now I'll tell you about The Doodle Bug Kid!
Ernie was a lad of about 15 who had no wartime fears. Indeed, when he came out of a cinema in the next town, there was an air raid on. Calmly, he walked the mile and half home, with bombs falling, shrapnel flying and anti-aircraft guns blazing. It was he who asked me to change the names in this true story, so as to protect the guilty!
On one occasion, Ernie and his friend Henry found a live incendiary bomb and quarrelled over who found it first. In the end it was agreed that Ernie keep it and hide it away in the garden shed. Henry, however, had premonitions of danger and decided to tell the Police, who soon called at Ernie's home and took it away.
Ernie lived in a little cottage in Upminster and was busy one afternoon mending a puncture on his bike. Just as he got everything back together again, there was an enormous 'bang', far louder than he had ever heard before. It seemed to come from the nearby hamlet of Cranham.
Boys at that time loved to collect wartime souvenirs, such as bits of planes, bombs, mines, etc., and Ernie was no exception. Keen to learn what the bang was, he jumped on his bike and pedalled furiously for Cranham. Knowing the area well, he soon found and walked into the huge crater which was still smoking, realising that this had been no ordinary bomb, but a Doodle Bug or flying bomb.
Now Ernie was well versed in wartime weaponry and knew that doodle bugs carried two very collectible devices - they were called something like magnetic gyro compasses. The one up-front kept the bomb on course and the other, near the rear, caused it to dive or climb at the appropriate time.
Ernie searched frantically, for if he could find these, they would be a prize indeed! They had a lot of gears, beautifully engineered in Germany.
At the time, the authorities were anxious to find these parts because it was thought the information from them could assist in finding out where they came from. However, this later proved incorrect.
Tucking the parts under his coat, Ernie got on his bike and pedalled as fast as he could for home. On the way he passed both an ARP [Air Raid Precautions] Warden pedalling in the opposite direction and an RAF vehicle.
As usual, Ernie hid the parts in the garden shed.
Three years on, when Ernie was just eighteen, he married Helen. Being so young, everyone said 'That won't last!', but it did, and they are still together after more than 50 years.
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
It was at the christening of their first child, Emma, when Ernie and his father-in-law, Artie, were chatting about the war, that strangely thematter of gyro compasses came up. "I was an ARP warden when the doodle bug came down at Cranham," said Artie, "And do you know, the Home Guard and RAF searched until dark, but never found those bits." "Would you like to see them?" asked Ernie. Looking a little surprised Artie replied, "Little chance of that now!" But that chance was there for the next day Ernie produced the parts and they both had a good laugh!
Tony Beauclerk Colchester
Luck to be Alive
It was 1934 and I was five years old and starting school. Fortunately there was a little school not far from our house and one day my mother took me there so that I could meet Miss Currie, who was not only the Headmistress but the proprietor. It was a corrugated iron building, boarded inside and probably a former billet for soldiers in the 1914-18 war.
My mother told me I would start the next day and to make a good impression I was to get there early. I had to wear shorts, collar and tie, school blazer and cap.
The next day I arrived very early! I knocked on the door and Miss Currie told me to come in. She was just in the process of lighting one of the Valor paraffin heaters, which proved to be the only form of heating the school had. I was told to sit on a small stick-back chair and wait for the other boys and girls. Soon they arrived and we all sat on these small chairs around a table, waiting for our teacher Miss Ansell to arrive. The girls were dressed in pinafore dresses, white blouses and black stockings. My new friends were Gordon, Colin and Roger.
In the road outside the school were narrow gauge railway lines which disappeared into bushes and foliage on the other side. We decided to scramble along where the rails ran and for some distance people's back gardens backed on to it. The rails stopped where the gardens met so our little railway came to an end. It was many years later that I found out that our mystery railway had been about three miles long and ran from a brickworks to Upminster station. Our little railway really fascinated us!
Colin, Gordon, Roger and I soon found a piece of waste land and after school we would go there to play cricket or catch newts in a nearby pond, usually getting our feet wet in the process. One of our games was to loosen our shoes and then kick forward, our shoes flying nicely through the air - it was great fun!, Until .. the back door of a passing van was hit with quite a bang. The driver stopped and got out, looked at his back door, which fortunately had not been dented, shouted at us for being so stupid and told us he'd give us a good hiding if we ever did it again. We all slunk off with our tails between our legs.
Our school only had three teachers - Miss Currie, Miss Ansell and Miss Smith who was a very good pianist. Miss Currie must have thought that plenty of publicity was good for the school and was very keen on school concerts. These involved a lot of rehearsals, which we didn't mind as it meant we got off lessons.
The girls performed various dances in their tutus, ballet and tap shoes whilst we boys were only allowed to exercise to music, recite poems, and act short plays. In our grey shorts, white shirts and grey pullovers, we were allowed to join in with the piano, playing triangles and cymbals.
After all the preparation and rehearsals, the concerts were held in various church halls, no doubt boosting the pupil numbers at the school! One Christmas we were giving a concert at a church hall which had been decorated with paper chains, etc. The photographer arrived to take a picture of us on the stage. Thinking back, his equipment must have been antiquated for it was an old mahogany and brass camera on a stand. He had a small amount of magnesium powder on a metal plate. After removing the camera lens cap, he lit the magnesium which flared into the very bright light required [equal to today's 'flash'] but unfortunately he set the decorations alight! Someone jumped up and pulled them to the floor, stamping out the flames.
Once a year the tailor visited the school to supply us with caps, badges, ties, hats for the girls and, of course, blazers. These we always had too big so we would l grow into them'.
Now you may ask, "Why the lucky to be alive bit?" Well it was this:
Next to the playing field, with only a simple fence between, was the District line to London, with750 volt electrified rails. Having finished our lunch and whilst the teachers were finishing theirs, we boys would go out for a game Of cricket. The ball would get hit over the fence and on to the railway line. One of us would climb over and gingerly step between the rails to collect the ball. This happened several times before a teacher came out and caught us."Don't you ever do that again!", she shouted. And we didn't.
In July 1939 the school holiday started and in August we went on holiday to Ilfracombe and bought a house at Berrynarbor and there until January 1946, when we returned to our house at Upminster.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
On the Road
Sixty years ago or more, things were very different from today. Once you got off the main roads there was very little traffic. One fine summer's day, when I was about seven, my mother took me for a country ride in her little Ruby Austin Seven. We hadn't been going for very long when she was flagged down by a rather tawdrily dressed woman. Recognising her as Romany, my mother stopped and asked, "What can I do for you?" The woman's face lit up with a smile and she said that she was pregnant and wanting to get back to the camp. My mother told her to get in and give directions for the way back to the camp. During the course of conversation, my mother enquired, "Is this your first baby, and when is it due?" "Oh, no," the Romany replied, "This is my third and it is due very soon." Mother increased her speed; she did not fancy being a midwife!
Soon she was asked mother to slow next gateway. We turned into the field, as directed, and found ourselves in the middle of several Romany caravans The occupants gathered round and our passenger explained how my mother had picked her up. They were all so pleased and offered us some of their hand-made clothes pegs. We drove off with a group of smiling people happily waving us goodbye.
One day, mother and Gerald had just returned from shopping and parked the car in the drive. Our front garden had a number of large shrubs and bushes, and as my mother glanced down, she saw two boots sticking out from just under one of the bushes! "l wonder who left them there?" she said to Gerald, who peered more closely and exclaimed, "Hang on, there's a pair of legs as well!" They both stood with their mouths hanging open, not knowing quite what to do. Then mother whispered to Gerald, "l think perhaps we should call the Police."
In a short while a car drew up and a policeman got out. "Well", said my mother, "Look for yourself." The policeman bent down and grabbed both boots. As he pulled, an Irish voice groaned, "De Valera ruined Ireland." It was a tramp who had had too much to drink and crawled under our bushes to sober up. The policeman managed to get him into his car, saying he would keep him at the station until he had sobered up.
"Do you think you could give him something to eat?" enquired my mother. "We are not Lyons Corner House, madam", came the reply, and off they went.
These tramps were harmless, just people who had lost their way in life. At Christmas, the same one would call on us at lunchtime and mother would set up a card table in the porch and give him the same full meal as ourselves. There was no alcohol, however, as this was never kept in the house.
In 1939, due to the War, we moved from Essex to Berrynarbor. It was not long before we met Roy S. Head, he was another wanderer. Sadly, Roy had suffered shell shock in the 1914-18 War and could not live within the confines of four walls. He was a very intelligent and well-educated man, thought to have been a doctor. it was also thought that his father, too, may have been a doctor and sometimes Roy was referred to as Dr. Head. He would wander all over the countryside, sleeping in fields, barns or under bushes. Sometimes he would go to his sister's cottage in Berrynarbor no doubt for a clean up and a good meal or two. The off he would go again to sleep in the old places and even in a pig shelter. Sadly, one day Roy was found at the side of the road, where he had passed away.
Talking with Roslyn Hammett the other day she told me that during her father Stan's seven year courtship of Bessie, he would walk to llfracombe to see her. On one occasion Stan turned up to meet Bessie with a rather dishevelled man, who had accompanied him for most of the way. When she exclaimed, "Why have you brought that tramp with you?" Stan, looking rather embarrassed, scratched his head, thought for a moment and then came up with, "He's not a tramp, he's a milestone inspector!"
Older residents of Berrynarbor must remember Jock Morrison. Jock lived for a while in a tent in the woods at the bottom of the Old Coast Road, probably called Napps Woods. As boys, we would, in our bravado, stop at his tent, pull aside the fly and call, "Morning, Jock!" Jock, startled, would raise his head, rub his eyes and grunt, "Mornin', boys." Then we would leave him so that he could go back to sleep. Jock could be seen washing his clothes at various streams around the village and if the weather permitted, his clothes would go back on still wet! Although his 'home' was the tent, he would sleep at other places, one of which was a shelter at Hillsborough. Unfortunately, once when he turned up at the shelter it was already occupied by a courting couple, too busy kissing and cuddling to worry about a man who paced up and down, waiting to go to bed, but eventually they left and Jock moved in. He would catch rabbits, not knowing they were infected with myxomatosis - they would just be sitting there, probably blind and easy to catch. Eating them didn't seem to do him harm!
Mrs. Emma Richards of Barton Farm was kind to Jock and he quite often enjoyed a Sunday lunch there. He would be given his food and eat it in the cow shed. His luck changed when Farmer Fred Richards had a cottage vacated at Combe Martin opposite the Pack of Cards, where I believe Jock was allowed to live, doing a bit of gardening to help make ends meet. How his life ended I do not know. Perhaps someone can enlighten me?
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
It's now time to look fonward to Christmas and also think about Christmas's past.
When we were small children in the 30's, we would make our own paper chains. In our case, we made them from old wallpaper book samples which we cut into strips of the right length and stuck them together in links with paste made by mother from ordinary cooking flour and water. In those days you also stuck your wallpaper with the same mixture. But after a time you would get a fungal growth which was quite unpleasant! I think we also used Gripfix, quite popular as the time. Wrapping the parcels was quite of course, when we ran into problems mother come to the rescue.
We would have a nice Christmas tree which we would decorate with glass baubles. The glass was very thin and if they broke they were sharp and dangerous. The parcels were arranged underneath the tree which was draped tinsel and not forgetting the fairy on the top.
Then there were crackers or 'bon bon's' - as called them. The Christmas pudding had to be made, and everyone took a turn at stirring, as they did with the Christmas cake mixture. Then there were mince pies to be made - it was quite a busy time which was as well as it helped to fill in the school holiday. On Christmas Eve, when it was time for bed, we would hang up our sock, stockings and possibly a pillow case.
Generally in those days, presents were less costly and less elaborate. People would often make things for each other. Boys and girls would make things at school, such as bookmarks, raffia teapot mats, woven dog leads and their own cards. Adults would knit socks, scarves and Fair Isle jumpers or woolly hats. Fathers would knock up table lamps or turn egg cup holders on a lathe. But then you might be lucky - and get a train set or a china doll with closing eyes.
Christmas dinner was wonderful, with turkey, ham, stuffing and plenty of vegetables from the back garden.
After dinner, there would be the distributing of the presents and each one of us would wait for it to be our turn. Squeals of joy and jumping up and down was accompanied by 'Ooh's' and 'Aah's'. Then white we played with our new things, the adults, having probably overeaten, fell asleep and loud snoring would take place.
Now, not everything always goes as it should and one Christmas our main dish did go haywire!
On this occasion mother thought that for a change we might have something different than turkey. It happened that she spotted two geese in a nearby field adjoining our cottage. She stopped and knocked at the cottage door. "Excuse me," she asked, "Are your geese for sale?" 'Yes, of course" agreed the man readily. 'They look healthy and tender' mother observed.
The man nodded and gave the price of one including the dressing and making it ready for the table. Mother was so pleased that she told her friend Mary. So off Mary went to the man and made a similar deal with the second goose.
When Christmas was over, mother happened across Mary. "How was your goose," mother asked. "Tough as old boots," replied Mary, "How was yours?". "Just the same," was mother's reply! "Do you know," Mary continued, "l went down to where we bought the geese and what do you think I saw?". "I don't know," said my mother. "Two young and healthy geese like the ones we bought!" Mary replied, with a look of disgust.
"Oh well, you can't win them all!"
Christmas Illustrations by: Debbie Rigler Cook
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
TUT TUT BUB ER GUG
At about the time I was eleven and my sister Jean thirteen, like most kids we had 'secrets' which we didn't want the adults to know and it was for this reason that Jean invented our new 'language'. She gave it the name shown above and after some practice we became quite fast at speaking it.
In fact we got good enough to confuse mother, much to her annoyance! Mostly what you do is to put a 'U' after almost any letter of the alphabet and then the letter again. There are, of course, exceptions which had to be invented, but rather than point them out separately, I'll give all the letters and how we said them.
A is A, B is BUB, C is CUC, D is DUD, E is E, F is FUF, G is GUG, H is HUSH, I is l, J is JUG, K is KUK, L is LUK, M is MUM, N is NUN, O is O, P is PUP; Q is qwuck, R is RUN, S is SUS, T is TUT, U is U, V is vtJ\/, X is X, Y is Y' and Z is ZUZ.
This 'language' was taught in fun to my children so we have a bit of fun even now speaking it to each other. I even taught it to a student from Essex University, so who knows what future it may have!
I hope that mums and dads and boys and girls of Berrynarbor will 'have a go' so that when I next come to the village, we'll ail be able to have a chat.
Now There's a Funny Thing!
- Firstly, a few things about music. I started writing it but I've only got as far as M . . U
- Then there was this chap who wrote a tune in four flats he was evicted from the first three.
- When I was being taught the electronic organ, my playing was so emotional that my teacher used to clasp his hands over his ears and cry.
- The neighbours would throw bricks through my window so that they could hear me better.
- I am teetotal, so I won't play music by Boosey and Hawkes. I have been advised to play at concerts for the stone deaf and why is it that the instrument I play makes so many mistakes! It's as bad as my typewriter. You'd think they'd improve these things with all this new technology. I can now play simple tunes backwards. I simply move the instrument to the other side of the room.
- But this is true. I sent myself for theory lessons but ended up teaching my teacher to swim - successfully, I'm glad to say.
- Anyway, whilst at my local garage recently, I was talking to the salesman and he told me this story: a customer came in and said his tyres were not doing their job properly and he felt it was due to the stale air in them. The salesman said he could top them up and everything would be OK. The customer, however, insisted that was not good enough and that the old air had lost its bounce, so could they be deflated and then reflated with fresh air as he was sure this would make a difference to the car's performance. Always anxious to please, the salesman duly did as asked and the customer went away quite happy!
A few statistics . . . [probably wrong!]
- Did you know that you should never go to bed, it is very dangerous? Lots of people die in bed.
- Did you know that when motoring you should drive as fast as possible? The reason being that the roads are dangerous so you should spend as little time as possible on them.
- Did you know that some of the worst criminals have been known to eat bread? Probably the cause of their crimes.
- Rabbits are vegetarians, but they still wear real fur coats.
- How about the mean man who went into the music shop to buy a penny whistle but wanted a discount.
Oh, well, all for now!
Tony Beauclerk Colchester
People and their Pets
I'm sure most people have found much amusement from looking at the way we behave towards our pets and, of course, the way our pets behave towards us!
At the back of a house where I lived there was a yard. At that time your groceries were delivered in a wooden box. Now one of the boxes was standing on end in the yard and our cat, Tiddy Wee, was sitting in it. Jumbo, our old Devon sheepdog sauntered past, not even noticing the cat sitting there. Quick as a flash, Tiddy Wee popped out, clawed Jumbo in the bottom and nipped back in. Jumbo turned around but, of course, could see nothing to have caused the attack. Tiddy Wee's revenge for having been chased up the trees so many times.
Then there was the Labrador we called Puzzle - this name was given because it was a puzzle to know what to call her. She went everywhere with us and we always took her on holiday in the caravan. When staying at Cromer, we were down on the pier talking to the local show box office manager and told him we should like to see the show, but as we had a dog, this would not be possible. "Well, you can bring her if she behaves, but if she doesn't, you'll have to take her out." "Right," we told him, "We'll be along tonight. "
During the show there was 'A-hunting we will go' song and when they reached the 'Tan tivvy' bit, old Puzzle joined in, much to the amusement of the audience. Rather than being thrown out, she was applauded.
My mother, who would not be separated from her pomeranian, would even smuggle her, in a carrier bag, into the cinema. Whether the dog enjoyed the films, I don't know!
One day at a car park we met a man whose Labrador was in a cage in his car. On asking him why, he replied that it had eaten most of the interior of his previous car and he didn't want it to happen again!
How do animals get names? Well, when we lived in Berrynarbor we knew the Peacheys who lived at 'Prospect' in Birdswell Lane. Now they had a cat which decided to have its litter on a pair of plus fours laying in a cupboard and belonging to Bill Peachey. Answer? Call the kitten they gave us 'Plus'.
Then there was Ziggy, so named because my son Ray went into a pub to buy sonne cigarettes, saw a litter of springer spaniels, bought one and called it Ziggy after the Zigarettes.
By the way, our present dog Bessie was a naughty puppy, chewing most things including the paint off the radiator, skirting board, architrave; ripping up the vinyl and eating most of the washing machine control panel. She was an expensive young lady!
When I was in my teens it was customary to invite friends back for a coffee after going to a dance. On one occasion, Rex and I had gone back to our house, had our coffee and then Rex went home. The next day Tiddy Wee was nowhere to be seen. He had hopped through an open window in Rex's car and gone to sleep. The next day when Rex went to get his car out, old Tiddy Wee jumped out and ran into his back garden and then on to some waste land. Now Rex's house was some yards from a then electrified railway line - had Tiddy tried to find his own way home he would probably have met his end. I made a like several saucers of milk and he was enticed back to safety!
Lastly, there's the story of Danny who lived across the road. He had all sorts of animals, including a huge cart horse, a small horse, budgies, chickens, dogs and cats - you name it and he had it. Danny got fed up with his cats going after his pigeons, so he decided to build a loft to beat all others. He managed to get hold of an old telegraph pole, built a lovely loft which he attached to the top, and sank it firmly into the ground. He was very proud of this! So proud that he invited me over to have a look. My eyes slowly followed the pole to the top and you've guessed it. There crouching and proudly looking out was one of his cats!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
It must have been about 1937-8, and as my father had died in 1936, there were some changes to be made.
Our house was still lit by gas and after one night when one of us kids got into the cupboard where the gas meter was and turned the lever off, plunging the house into darkness, it was decided we should go electric. The things kids do quite innocently, such as scrubbing the floor with a pocket watch and bucket of water, would you believe it! Anyway, there were other improvements to be done, such as decorating and a brick path and circular flower bed put in the middle of the lawn.
My mother, Vi, who had brought up orphan Iambs, had taken one back to the farmer and the other to Belhus Park near Averley, Essex, both to be looked after. It was there, at the mansion at Belhus Park, where they had riding stables, that my mother and Auntie Con, having kitted themselves out, went riding.
After a while, mother and my half-brother Gerald thought it would be a good idea to have a couple of horses for my sister Jean and I to ride. Although our home was an old Victorian house with stables left over from another age, it was felt that they did not want the full-time responsibility of looking after two horses. So they went for a chat with the proprietor of the riding stables at Belhus Park and soon reached an agreement that we should buy two horses, which would be kept there and let out for riding when we did not require them. This would reduce the cost of keeping the horses and we could use the riding stable horses should ours be 'let out'.
l, however, at that time was unable to ride, so was put in the charge of the stable boy. He led me around as though I was riding a donkey on the sands and was obviously fed up doing this. One day, in his frustration, he took a stick and whacked the pony on the backside. Well, ic took off at speed with me hanging on for dear life! With the 'bumpety-bump' going all wrong, I developed a list and one foot came out of the stirrup and I came off, only to be dragged. Fortunately, my other foot came loose just before the pony jumped over a small log and luckily I was not hurt, just a little muddy.
My sister Jean had no problem learning to ride and after a while I got the hang of it too.
The two horses, which had been bought, were called Cinders and Peter. Cinders was a polo pony and Peter was a grey and generally quite placid. The two were quite different, Cinders being fiery and only letting females ride her. When Gerald took Peter on concrete roads, he would for some reason, do little jumps over the bituminous joints.
My sister and I spent many happy hours riding around the park. Sometimes we would stop to look at the pets' cemetery where the people at the mansion had put their dogs, cats and even horses. Each had a headstone with the name, age and perhaps other details. How they must have loved them.
One day after Jean and I had had a canter, we decided to let the horses cool in a leafy spinney. We loosened the reins to let Cinders and Peter have a munch but suddenly there was a loud buzzing from the ground emerged an angry swarm one of the horses had trodden on the nest of either wild bees or wasps. Jean and I retreated rapidly, making for the stables with many of the enemy in hot pursuit! Jean escaped without a sting, but poor old Peter was stung several times on his face, and I had been stung twice.
The next year, when we arrived at Belhus Park for one of our riding sessions, we were surprised to find soldiers encamped and the officers had taken over the mansion. The War was brewing. The man who ran the stables greeted us with, "You'll never guess what happened last night!" "Go on, then tell us", we all said in chorus. "Apparently," the man continued, "Some soldiers who had been down to the 'local' came back a bit merry and decided to put your lamb [or sheep as it was now] in an officer's bed. They never found out who did it!"
Well, the War came and we moved to Berrynarbor. Sadly, the horses had to be sold and it was the end of an era. However, it was not long before Jean and I found that we could hire horses at Moules Farm, which we did. These were lively Exmoor ponies and were great fun. We would take them up into the hills and find small logs to jump. Sometimes we would take off their saddles and ride bareback. Later, towards the end of the War, Jean went to work for Len Bowden at Sloley Farm and her horse riding skills enabled her to round up cattle and sheep.
At the end of the War we moved back to our hold house at Upminster in Essex and thought horses had now gone out of our lives, but this was not so. A doctor, whose son wanted a horse, approached Gerald about renting one of our stables in which to keep it, but it turned out to be rather large and old! After a while, the matter of mucking out, feeding and exercising became a chore, so Jean or I would take the old fellow out for a ride. One day, when Jean was exercising him in a field, she sensed he was going to fall and with good presence of mind, she threw herself off sure enough, the horse fell. Luckily she had avoided being rolled on and injured. Well, the doctor sold his horse and time moved on.
A few years ago my son, Raymond, decided he'd like a horse. Having sounded out the neighbours who did not mind, he built a stable in his back garden. His small horse was called Houdini, and he was a real pet. From time to time, Raymond would take Houdini to a nearby farm to graze. One November he had done this but intended to take him home to avoid fireworks. Unfortunately, vandals got to the field first, unlocked the gate and Iet off fireworks. Raymond's horse, and another, bolted and ran out on to the A12, where his horse was hit by a car and killed, whilst the other was slightly injured and caught. Raymond was devastated.
Going back to happier times with Cinders and Peter, I remember sliding down Peter's neck when I had finished my ride, or him putting his head in the car window to say 'Hello'. Riding a horse is like riding a bike you never forget how to ride, nor the horses you have known.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
Ode to Berrynarbor
And Berrynarbor is dear to me.
Remembering places like the Manor Hall
Gatherings for dances, drama and all.
There's Broadsands, Sandy Cove, Sandy Bay,
The summer months - one long holiday.
Sawmills, Berry Corner, Watermouth Harbour,
Lots of places close to Berrynarbor.
When I was a lad it was all the rave
To collect stalactites and see bats in Napps Cave.
At nearby Combe Martin there are Hangman Hills,
A walk up these gets rid of your ills!
Newberry Beach, a beautiful sky,
Camel's Head and Camel's Eye.
Birdswell Lane, Sterridge too,
The Globe, the Church for me and you.
Many farms I can name,
North and South Lee are not the same.
There's Moules, Ruggaton and others
Often run by relations or brothers.
From time to time I return to see
Berrynarbor that is dear to me,
Illustrated by: Peter Rothewell
Tony Beauclerk - Evacuee, 1939-1945
Those Teenage Years
It was 1946 and World War I l was over. After six and a half years we moved back to our home town of Upminster in Essex. Time was moving on and I had to get myself a job. I had joined a youth club, named Sandringham, at Upney, which is near Barking. At this club I met a girl called Polly Pinner. We soon got talking about past years and it turned out that she was at the Dagenham County High when it was evacuated and superimposed on llfracombe Grammar School. Oddly enough, she was a friend of Betty Kelly who lived in llfracombe and was in my class during the war. Polly and I became good chums and we would travel on the same train together to go to the youth club.
In the course of a chat with her, I asked where she worked and she said that she worked for an Estate Agent in Upminster and they wanted an office boy. What a bit of luck! I got the job and £2 a week too!
One Saturday there was to be a dance at Sandringham and Polly and I arranged to meet at the station to travel there. As was always the case, Polly would stick with her friends and I with mine during the evening, but we would travel back together. On this occasion I had rather foolishly put on a new pair of shoes and all evening my feet were killing me! When we arrived at Upminster station, Polly asked me if I would walk her home as she was a bit afraid to go alone as it was so late. I agreed, but by now my feet were really hurting and by the time we got to her house I could not walk any further!
Polly's reaction was, "We always keep a bed made up for visitors, so why don't you stay the night?" I was so whacked, I thanked her and was shown the room.
Now when we were young we must have caused our mothers a lot of worry and I was certainly no exception. Next morning, at about 9.30, it occurred to me that perhaps I should ring and let mother know my whereabouts. She answered the 'phone, telling me that she had been worried out of her mind and had the Police out looking for me. "Not very successful are they?" I rudely retorted. I don't think I'd better tell you what she eventually said when I finally got home, I think it began with, "You rotten little...
Looking back at the late nights when we were young, so much seems daft! We had a grandfather clock in our hall, the back of which was exposed at the level of a turn in the stairs. Also exposed was the hammer and striking bell. One night I arrived home very late and did not dare put any lights on in case the sound of the switch was heard by my mother. Fortunately, the curtains had not been pulled and light was corning in from the street lights. I took off my shoes to prepare for the silent ascent to my bedroom, but then made out that the clock was just about to strike two. Taking a penny out of my pocket, I crept up to the level at the back of the clock and waited. Sure enough, the clock struck two, or was it? With my penny I struck another ten - a much more respectable time to arrive home!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
I think the most seals I have ever seen were at Tentsmuir in Scotland. Tentsmuir is not far from St. Andrews and has beautiful sands. Off these sands are sandbanks and on one of these were dozens of seals, all basking away. With binoculars, my wife Betty and I were able to see this wonderful sight, but there was another treat in store. There on the shore was a baby seal, still with its umbilical cord attached. We were able to go right up to it, but I knew we should not touch. If you do touch them, the mother can pick up the scent and it may upset their relationship.
Further down the country, in fact at Combe Martin, and during World War Il, I was walking down Seaside looking across to the beach when I saw something large lying there. On getting closer, I discovered it was a dead male seal, about seven-foot long. It had large whiskers and tusks. On enquiring, I learned that it had been found washed up at Sandy Bay by some fishermen who put a rope round it and towed it in. It was later taken back to sea and dumped.
There are many interesting stories about seals. At Blakeney in Norfolk, the fishermen at one time shot seals for damaging their nets. Now the picture has changed and boat trips for visitors are arranged to see the seals.
Recently there were reports of a dog being swept away in the river Tees near Middlesborough. The dog was saved by a seal which nudged it to the riverbank and as a result it survived its ordeal.
Swimmers in difficulty have been nudged to the surface by seals and have thus avoided drowning.
It was when we lived in Berrynarbor during World War I l that my half-brother, Gerald, and I belonged to a drama group. Each week we were taken to Lee Bay by the producer to rehearse for a musical play called 'Fat King Melon', Gerald was the musical director.
One particular week the weather was really warm, so I decided to take my swimming togs and have a swim after the rehearsal.
made my way down to the water and left Gerald leaning over the wall to watch. The water was warm and I did my usual breaststroke and swimming under water and generally splashed around.
When I came out and up the beach, Gerald called out, "Did you all enjoy your swim?" I grabbed my towel and replied, "What do you mean, all? I was on my own."
"Well," he said, "there were several seals swimming quite close to you."laughed and said, "You must be joking!" He assured me that what he had said was true.
Illustrated by: Debbie Rigler Cook
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
Boys will be Boys
Prior to 1939, I went to an independent school where fighting was frowned upon, indeed not allowed. When I changed schools, my first experience of being provoked was on the school bus, when others sitting behind me would persist in flipping my ears. I would turn round and ask them to stop, only to be giggled at and told, "It wasn't me." As time went on, the provocation would become more and eventually end up with, "Fight, fight, fight!" Fists would be put up, which I simply grabbed and held. I was quite strong in the arm and after a while things would calm down. [By the way, this can also work with grandchildren!]
How do fights begin? Nobody seems to remember what they were about! One fight I had at school was with Paul Vellacott. Paul hit me on the jaw and a tooth came lose. I took it out with my handkerchief and the fight stopped. Paul and I became good friends after that and the strange thing was that although the tooth was a second one, it grew again!
Of course, boys fighting are a part of growing up, but I took a lot of stick before I would fly. When I did, the other lad would get the worst of it, but being asthmatic, I would always end up out of puff!
One summer Saturday afternoon, my pal Don and I were out walking near the top of Hagginton Hill and looking through a field gateway saw two lads walking towards us. Without any provocation, one called across to Don, "Want a fight?" Don shouted back, "Yes!", and they were soon at it like a couple of terriers.
The other lad and I did not fight but out of nowhere, or so it seemed, appeared two more boys, both with airguns. They stood there with their guns with the obvious intention of letting the fight run its course. Now fisticuffs are one thing, but airgun dangerous. By now the larger lad was getting better of Don, but you can hardly intervene when you've got airguns pointing at you!
Soon the larger lad had knocked Don to thy ground and was kneeling astride him, putting mud in his mouth. Fortunately, at that moment a voice called out, "Stop that at once, or I'll call the police." It was Don's mum who had heard the commotion and luckily had just the right intonation to stop things in their tracks. All four boys ran off in the direction of llfracombe, leaving Don, his mother and me aghast.
At school on Monday, Don's face was still swollen and he told me he had had to feed through a straw over the week-end. His mother didn't report the matter to the police, although Don told me he'd had several more fights with the lad, eventually getting the better of him.
Don never gave up!
Sadly, Don, who was always interested in wildlife and so knowledgeable, died last year after sixty years of friendship.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
It must have been 1940 or 1941 when we were sitting in class at the then llfracombe Grammar School. As usual, I was looking out of the window instead of concentrating on the lesson. Gradually it became more and more overcast, so much so that Miss Chadder had to put the light on. I just continued to look out of the window and, what was that? A feather, I thought. No, there's another and another. Soon the snow was failing fast. Miss Chadder looked worried and soon there was a white layer covering the ground. Shortly, Mr. Tatten, the Headmaster, called in at every class to say we could all go home early.
There would have been other similar stories to this as the boys and girls came from different areas such as Woolacombe, Mortehoe, Braunton, Combe Martin, and so on.
However, Don [who lived at Goosewell] and I set off, firstly to Hele and then to Goosewell. l, of course, had to get to Berrynarbor. Well, by the time I got to ascending Pitt Hill, it was about a foot deep. My feet and clothes were soaked and I was glad to get home to our house in Barton Lane to dry out.
Being off school meant having some fun - snow ball fights in the village and tobogganing. If you look across from the car park at Castle Hill, you will see a field with a slight cart track cut into the side of it. When tobogganing down the field, you would hit it causing the toboggan to 'jump' - great fun! Even the dogs joined in to help pull the toboggans up the hill for your next ride.
At Pitt Hill I remember a double-decker bus stuck and abandoned. It had slid against the wall and looked very precarious. However, it wasn't long before the courting couples found it a very convenient place to meet! Rosslyn Hammett [nee Huxtable] told me that there was a similar marooned bus in the same place in 1947. So there you are youngsters, wait for the next good snowfall!
There was also ice skating, although not often. I did once stand on Mill Farm lake, though I resisted walking out to the island - I should not recommend such folly as it is very dangerous and could be fatal.
Then, at other times, there was the rain! Each winter we rode upstairs on the bus and would look out over the field adjoining Mill Farm, which would be flooded [but not very deep]. The only way Jim Chugg and his family could come and go from his back door was wearing wellies. It has improved there now as the Sterridge has been deepened and possibly re-routed.
Continuing our journey past Sawmills and looking left high on the field, we always watched for the coloured rabbits. That is tame, escaped ones that bred with the wild ones white, black and white and so on. I wonder if their descendants still live there or if they were wiped out by myxomatosis? Further on down the road towards Watermouth Caves, there would be more field flooding.
Come summer the Sterridge would be back to its old, pretty self, with the trout in the main stream, ducks with their young and right down at Watermouth Harbour, the little elvers [eels] that we used to catch.
Weatherwise, how things seem to have changed. North Devon is now described as virtually 'frost free', but then I am talking about 50 years ago!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
Some time around 1937-8, our family bought a Path& cine camera. The film, which was only 9.5mm wide, nevertheless gave good results. I remember scenes of tobogganing down Seaford Head one Christmas, walking along Seaford beach and sailing our boats on a pond at Brentwood, But one scene that stays vivid was in our back garden. I had filled a tin bath with water and set our wind up motor boat going around. Then I had a good idea to give my pet white mouse a boat ride. I fetched Mickey [for what other name would a mouse have?], wound up the boat and sat him aboard. He seemed to enjoy it, with his tail trailing in the water. Meanwhile, Bill our black spaniel sat looking on and drooling!
Due to the war, the camera was put away in a sock drawer and not used again for many a year. My interest in film continued, with Saturday morning cinema showing Edgar Kennedy, Flash Gordon and American sing-a-long bouncing ball films. There was not much singing though as most of the songs were not known to us!
Moving to Berrynarbor in 1939, my interest continued with the Scala Cinema in Ilfracombe High Street and the new cinema in Northfield Road. The film showing that summer at the Scala was I The Mikado' fascinating as had played the executioner's sword carrier in an amateur production.
At the Scala you knew when the programme was about to begin as a man would walk down the aisle to behind a low curtain and start winding the stage curtains open. They never did get rid of that stain down the screen though - probably caused by rain coming in!
When I was about 14, was sitting at the end of a row in the balcony when an usherette who was quite old - about 16! started chatting to me. "Move over one," she said and sat down next to me. We continued to talk and then a lad appeared [he was about 17]. "Move over one again," she said, and he sat down. Her attention turned from me and before long they were kissing and cuddling. It turned out that he was not only her boyfriend, but the projectionist. But he had to disappear before long as the film reels only lasted for 10 minutes and he had to switch over and reload! I often had chats with the girl, but she left to work as a cashier in the butcher's shop.
The New Cinema in Northfield Road was a conversion rather than a purpose-built one - I believe it had been a church or Masonic hall. It was smaller with only a 'few steps up' balcony. The projector box had been built at the back and when the projectionist opened the door to come out for a smoke, you would hear the loud clatter of the projector [no doubt a Kalee].
At that time, I was at school with a lad called Parry whose father ran the cinema and once when I was at his house in Hele, his mother offered us sweets, off ration! Apparently they were intended for sale at the cinema but due to poor storing, had deteriorated. They might not have been fit for the public but there were certainly OK by us!
Both cinemas closed some years ago, with residential buildings on the Scala site but the New Cinema remained empty.
There was some film production work to be learned when Gabriel Pascal filmed some of 'Caesar and Cleopatra' in the 1940's, with a motor boat built up with struts and painted canvas to look like a Roman galleon. Things were scaled down with model soldiers, about 2 feet tall, standing on the deck. What intrigued me was the way the oars worked - they were not only pivoted at the usual rowlock position, but at the handles to a long pole. A man stood at each end, holding the pole and moving it up and down and all the oars would move in unison. A model of Alexandria was mounted on a stand and smoke cartridges gave the impression of the city being on fire. From time to time the stars of the film could be seen and I believe, but don't know if they took up the offer, the Home Guard were approached to be Roman soldier 'extras' at Saunton Sands.
Then there were the other film shows. Down at Seaside in Combe Martin, Mr. Knight had a mobile cinema showing Ministry of Information films. The translucent screen was at the back of the vehicle, which itself was a converted Rolls Royce! Since there was little traffic, you could stand in the road to watch.
Finally I must mention 'Pettits Popular Pictures'. The posters would advertise the films to be shown at the Manor Hall and a 9.5mm sound Projector would be set up amongst the audience at the stage end of the Manor Hall and the screen at the other not good presentation to me. The lights were turned off and the old gentleman would start the projector. Films were interrupted by frequent breakdowns, but the George Formby Comedies went down well. I think the man running these shows lived in the van in which he carried his equipment, and he probably travelled around a lot Of villages in the West Country.
Tony Beauclerk Colchester
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
Food, Glorious Food
It is not long since the 62nd anniversary of the outbreak of World War Il [3rd September 1939]. Rationing became the order of the day to make the scarcity fair for everyone. Books of coupons were issued to everybody, not just for food, but for clothes and even furniture - for those couples getting Married. Sweets became very scarce and you only had them if you were lucky and they were available. A visit to Miss Cooper at the village shop was sometimes in vain. Fortunately, living in Berrynarbor had some advantages. You could go down to the fish and chip shop at Combe Martin with half-a-crown [2/6d. or 12 1/4p] and get fish and chips for four people. I was often asked to get on my bike to do this, and as there was a little loose change left over - and I was not asked for it - then I would forget too! They would fry the potato pieces in batter and loosely call them escallops. Mostly the fish was rock eel.
Sometimes you could go down to the beach just as a fishing boat had landed and buy herrings for about a penny or tuppence each. There were rabbits available and they were very nice boiled first and then fried with onions.
I remember well fishing from rocks at Broad Sands, using limpets which we kicked off the rocks and used for bait. No rod, just a line swung round and round and let go! Fishing was not bad there, and we had several nice meals of whiting.
There is a story of a man at Combe Martin who, looking over the rails at Seaside, spotted a large fish below, more or less stationary. As he lived in a house just across the road, he ran in and got his shotgun. Back to the rails where he leaned over and shot the fish! I don't know, though, how he retrieved it. Anything for a bit of grub!
At this time you could go into a cafe or restaurant for a meal [mostly fry ups] but you were not allowed another meal at the same seat at the same table - you had to move to another table! OK, I suppose, if you had money to spare.
Like most people, we kept chickens, and despite clipping one wing [so if they flew at all it would be in circles!], they often escaped from the pen. My mother's Pomeranian fancied herself as some sort of sheepdog and quite got the hang of rounding them up.
Meat being in short supply once caused my mother great concern. At the time we owned two sheepdogs. As there was very little traffic they were allowed to roam more or less where they liked. One day Jumbo came home with quite a nice joint in his mouth - it was still partly wrapped and was he pleased with himself!. It was later discovered that he had pinched it from the shopping basket left hanging on the handlebars of a neighbour's bike, propped up in Birdswell Lane. How my mother sorted it out with the neighbour I don't know, but I'm sure she was very embarrassed!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
I was about 14 at the time and it was the start of the summer school holidays. Bob Becker, of Woodlands, Combe Martin, had become a good friend, and wc talked about what we could do for a change from swimming and meandering around or doing a bit of cycling.
"I know, let's go camping," I said, but Bob replied that his bike was out of order and anyway he didn't have a tent.
"My family have a tent, though its about thirty years old, and we've got a tandem."
"So that's it," enthused Bob, "We could go to my relatives at Friendship Farm at Challacombe." I thought, 'heck that's a bit of a push up there', but then when you're young, anything is possible. We asked our mums about food and they were willing to let us have some baked beans, Spam, porridge and bread [and, of course, anything else we could sneak!].
The venture was arranged for the following Saturday. Bob arrived at our house with a rucksack, two large woven bags, a heavy coat and pockets stuffed with all sorts of things. I had my share, including a wooden and canvas camp bed, which although only for one, we could alternate from sleeping on the ground sheet. It took a while to strap or fix everything on to the tandem with the camp bed tied onto one of the crossbars. Setting off, the whole thing looked like a small travelling shop!
It was a difficult ride - mostly pushing uphill - although we did have a 3speed [quite an advantage in those days]. We at last arrived at Friendship Farm and after a brief chat with Bob's uncle, were directed to a nearby field. We pitched the green canvas tent and despite its age, it seemed in good condition.
Bob's uncle gave us some old newspapers and told us to help ourselves to any firewood we could find. We found some wood and stored it in the tent to keep it dry, organised the sleeping arrangements, and made a drink and sandwiches before turning in for an early night.
Naturally, we lay awake talking and presently there was a strange snuffling noise coming from outside. I shone a torch and there was Ben, the farm sheepdog, trying to get his nose through the flysheet.
"I'd better let him in," I said, to which Bob replied that he was no doubt cold. So Ben was let in and soon settled down. When morning came, he was off again back to the farm, but I think he left a few of his little friends as we both seemed a bit 'itchy'! To top this, a large slug had made its way on to my pillow!
"Heck!" said Bob as he opened the fly flap, "The sky's gone pink!"
"Come off it", I replied, "Pink and red are the opposite of green and it's you being in the tent that's caused it."
"OK, clever clogs" was all Bob said.
Well, the rain set in and we spent a lot of time cramped up in that little tent. In the evening, being young and daring, we talked about going for a drink at the local pub, and for two 14 year olds the idea was, at least, a bit cheeky! When we got there, the publican, who must have been a little short-sighted, didn't hesitate in serving us a half-pint of scrumpy, to be consumed between us. Bob took one gulp and said, without conviction, "Smashing." I tried a sip but put it straight back on the table commenting, "It looks like disinfectant and tastes like varnish." "Never mind," quipped Bob, "If you drink enough you'll have a fine finish!"
The next morning the weather was a little better and after breakfasting on porridge cooked on our wood fire, we decided that as everything in the tent was rather damp, an airing would be in order. Amongst other things, the camp bed with Bob's eiderdown was put by the still-glowing embers. Just then a gust of wind caught the eiderdown, blowing it onto the fire. Quick as lightning, we rushed over to stop it burning but too late, although we stamped on it there was a large hole! Feathers staffed to fly just as Bob's uncle appeared asking, "You haven't been after my chickens have you? Oh no, I see you've had an accident. "
At that point it started to rain again and it went on all day. We argued about going home in the morning. I was fed up and wanted out, but Bob, always being optimistic, said it was bound to brighten up soon. I won, however, and we returned to our respective homes the next day. I think secretly that Bob was glad to get home - it rained continuously for the next Week!
Illustration by: Paul Swailes
Tony Beauclerk, Colchester
It must have been about 1938 - some time after my father died - when my half-brother, Gerald, was talking to me about worldly things and related the workings of the incubator and how he had become fascinated with the hatching of chicks. So much so, that he built a lot of chicken houses at the bottom of the garden to house the birds, and equipped them with Leclanche batteries to light them at night for the collection of eggs, cleaning, etc. Eventually, his 'stock' amounted to about 300 birds and he had difficulty in getting rid of the eggs - to any local shop that would have them!
Father, no doubt getting tired of the whole business, laid down the law and told him that they would have to go, and they did! However, we kept a reasonable number for our needs and perhaps a few eggs were put under a broody hen when required.
The incubator was left in the potting shed and remained unused until 1939, when we moved to Berrynarbor for the duration of the War. Gerald, who was then working for Stan Huxtable at North Lee, told him about how he used to hatch from the incubator rather than under a hen. Stan, who was very interested, said, "Well, you'd better fetch it out and set it up in a shed at the back of the farm." And this was duly done.
The incubator was like a plywood box on legs and was set up level, in a darkened place, where it could not be interfered with. It ran on paraffin with the temperature being controlled by a disc on a rod, lightly balanced, which could be adjusted as required. The disc was over a hole in the top and would rise or drop keeping the temperature reasonably constant - a kind of thermostat. At the front was a let-down glass panelled door and inside were two trays, one above the other with the top one falling short of the front by about 2" or 3". There were also water troughs which had to be filled to provide humidity.
The eggs had to be fertile. That is to say there had to be a cockerel in the farmyard! Before loading the 60 eggs into the incubator, they had to be marked - a 'O' on one side and a 'X' on the other. This assisted with the 'turning' of the eggs, which had to be done three times a day. How a chicken knows one side from the other, I don't know! After about 8 days, you could pick up an egg and hold it up to a candle. If it was clear, then it was not fertile. If you could see red blood vessels, then it was. One problem, if you had a lapse of concentration halfway through turning the eggs, you'd scratch your head and think, 'was I on noughts or crosses?'! The odd mistake didn't seem to matter. After the appropriate incubation period of 21 days - having tended to turning the eggs, checking the temperature and keeping the paraffin reservoir topped up, things began to happen!
Illustrated by: Debbie Rigler Cook
It was one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. Holding a candle by the glass front, you could just see a little beak tap its way through the shell. Gradually, this little beak would peck its way around most of the shell, making it look like a cradle with the chick laying in it. Other chicks would soon follow and at first they were bedraggled until they dried into pretty, little, fluffy creatures. Then they would come forward towards the candlelight and drop into the tray below.
Once they were all safely in the lower tray, they were taken indoors and put into a circular, galvanised feeder and drinker, with a protected oil lamp in the middle to keep them warm and peat was put in the run.
After a while, as the chicks grew and became a bit smelly [!], they were put out for a few hours at a time and once they were acclimatised, they went out with the other hens.
Stan was delighted, as was his wife Bessie, and there you are - that's life!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
What the Manor Hall Meant to Me
When I read the Newsletter and see all the events listed, I am delighted to see such activity, but Berry has, I think, always been like that and I hope it will continue to be so.
During World War Il, there was much going on. For instance, there was the Waste Paper Collection and I once helped with this and found a few cigarettes left among the papers [the latter being one-pagers]! I also remember a magic lantern slide lecture of places abroad. This was fascinating until the bulb blew! I offered my services to fit the spare and after a short delay, the lecture continues.
Manor Hall was the place for most events and I loved to attend the Saturday evening dances there. The musicians included 'The Four in Rhythm' organised by 'Dixie' Laurence Dale from Combe Martin, and a couple who ran a music shop in Ilfracombe the lady on the piano and her husband on drums. Mrs. Bowden from South Lee Farm also played for dancing. She had her own particular style as her real instrument was the American Organ, which I think was something akin to the harmonium. Captain Adams, from On-a-Hill would provide a mike, amplifier and speaker mounted on a board which would be hung over the centre of the hall. On your arrival just inside the hall, you would see a card table set out with someone in attendance to take your money and issue a ticket. I also recall some small RAF bands playing there. Whilst there was a small sprinkling of servicemen who liked to come to the village, it was the local people who always made a point of being there. Quite a lot of families would come along together, as well as the girls and boys. Mr. Conibear, the Special Constable, would look in during the evening to make sure everyone was behaving themselves, but there was never any trouble!
Then there were the variety concerts. If you could sing, dance, recite or act, then you were roped in! [Have we heard that somewhere else?!] On one occasion when one of these shows was planned, my half-brother, Gerald, who had a very good baritone voice, fell ill. Cheekily, I volunteered to 'croon' and sang 'Always' and 'Mairsey Doats'. It must have gone down OK because later, when Gerald was better, we were both asked to sing at a concert, and did.
There were quite a lot of one-act plays many by Mabel Constanduros and Howard Agg. I was in several of these and always enjoyed taking part. Bill Blackmore was pretty good on his ukulele, accompanying songs. On one occasion, they held a 'Fayre' in the hall. Sadly, the fortune teller fell ill. Using burnt cork to brown my face and hands and wearing a long robe and turban, I took her place. As the event was for charity, everyone played along although they knew it was me! There was one very unfortunate occasion as the Reverend Yeandle-Hignell was making his speech at the end of a show, when the roll curtain came adrift and fell on his head. An ambulance was called and under very difficult blackout conditions, he was taken to the hospital in Ilfracombe. Sadly, after that he never seemed a well man.
Finally I must make mention of the Mens' Institute or 'The Tute' as it was known. It was an ideal place for people of all ages, with a gas fire to warm yourself on cold, wintry nights! As lads we had the odd cigarette and nobody split on us. If you were in doubt as to how to take a snooker shot, someone would always pipe up, 'hit hard and laugh'! One night when the lights dimmed [as often happened], a very old gentleman commented in his quaint manner, "ere, thou canst seest as well as though couldst canst".
All good fun and better than the telly!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
To the right of the Post Office, looking up you will see the hedge to a field. When I was living in Berrynarbor, during World War Il, there was a very tall and mature tree in that hedge.
One day, when I had gone to the Post Office, I heard a number of voices coming from the field and on enquiring, I gathered that a cat had got itself stuck up the tree and couldn't get down. Always having a soft spot for animals, I went up to the field and offered my services to try and rescue it.
I looked at the tree and then realised there were no footholds for at least eight or ten feet.
"Can anybody get a ladder?" I asked.
"I'll get one," came the reply and a ladder about ten feet long was provided.
I propped this against the tree and climbed up. Well, so far so good, but the cat was still quite a long way further up. Now standing on a couple of branches, again with no footholds, I could see it was still another eight or ten feet up again.
I realised there was no other way - I hauled the ladder up into the tree and Wedged it on one of the branches on which I was standing. Having done my best to make it as firm as possible and unlikely to slip, I climbed on up and grabbed the cat by the scruff of its neck. Then began the perilous descent! On reaching the point where the ladder was resting, I dropped the cat into the arms of its owner, who was, of course, delighted and on down I went.
I thought no more about the matter but some weeks later, when talking to some friends, they said,
"Don't forget to come to the dance at the Manor Hall on Saturday."
I thought, 'what's so special about this particular dance', I usually went and had planned to go anyway.
Saturday came and dressed up in my best sports jacket and flannels, off l went to the dance. When the interval was over, I was called up to the stage, as there was to be an announcement. I wondered what it was all about until I was presented with a book from the R.S.P.C.A. for rescuing the cat! The book was called "The Penhales" and if I remember rightly, was written on the same lines as Lorna Doone. Sadly it has been mislaid in the sands of time.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
Tony and his wife Betty have just moved and we wish them every happiness in their new home.
Whilst on holiday in September, I was talking to John Lovering about times in World War Il.
"Oh, yes," he said, "I remember your den in the garden in Barton Lane."
Well yes, it started like this. I had become friendly with Geoffrey Bradley, a lad who was staying at Sun Ray at Combe Martin. He had visited our house at Berrynarbor which, at that time, had a very overgrown garden, due to being unoccupied for a long time before we moved in.
"Do you think your folks would mind if we dug a den in the garden?" Geoffrey remarked.
I said I would ask my mum and she said, "Oh yes, go ahead." I think she was more concerned about the war than any pranks we boys got up to!
A couple of days later Geoffrey called round and we made a start on what turned out to be Den Mark I, which was roughly 4' square and about 3' deep.
"What now?" I asked Geoffrey.
"Well", he replied, "There's always a lot of drift wood down on the beaches and we could cover it with some of that."
Broadsands proved to be the best as we found a very large sheet of ply and several lengths of 4" x 2". However, I can tell you these took a bit of carrying up from the beach!
On went the den's roof and after rummaging about we found another piece of ply for a trap door entrance. I had an idea for a chimney which was a bit like a rabbit hole and went down near the side of the den and then into it. This enabled us to light a fire and cook pieces of potato in an old elastoplast tin - not very nice, but fun! Boys being boys, we made ourselves smoking pipes by burning a hole in a short piece of branch [with a red hot poker] drilling a hole in the side and inserting a piece of bamboo. Feathervoil was the tobacco which, when dry and rubbed in your hands, turned into a sort of cotton-wool state. It was vile to smoke, but oh so 'grown up' at the time!
We soon got bored with the size of this den and decided to dig another one. We removed the roof and partly filled it in - the remaining hole was later turned into a fish pond. The Mark Il version was further down the garden, alongside Birdswell Lane and was much bigger, about 4' x 8', but still the same depth. However, our enthusiasm waned and this large hole was abandoned. During excavations, a lot of the soil had filtered through the hedge into Birdswell Lane, and I was instructed to fill it in, which meant carrying buckets of earth up the steps back into our garden. A tedious job and at one point I did think of turning it into a big pond for breeding trout, but of course I had no knowledge of how to go about such a venture.
Eventually, what had been our den was filled in and used by my mother and half-brother, Gerald, for growing vegetables - far more useful, particularly with the shortage of fresh food!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
In my article in the August issue, Don and I cycled to Barnstaple. These two photographs, from the Tom Bartlett collection - the first dated c1912 and the second c1926 - show the boathouse where we hired a boat and rowed upstream.
'We made for the river by the moored there was an old craft like a Noah's ark with the boat repairing shed in the middle.'
[with apologies and thanks to Norman Sloleyl
What a funny title you may say. Read on and all will be revealed.
If you know Combe Martin I'm sure you will know the Camel's head and the Camel's eye. Well now, as a lad in the 'forties, Norman used to go at low tide to where you would imagine the Camel's nostril might be. It was here that there was a hollow - not exactly a cave - but in it was a silvery seam. Norman would take a hammer and chisel and chip out some of the silver. Mr. Begree had a jeweller's shop in Combe Martin and Norman wondered if he might be interested. Sure enough he was and he offered him 8d [approx. 4p] for each lot he brought him. He never got more than this however much he brought.
Mr. Begree would crunch up the stuff and stick a little on small, flat stones and sell them for 2/6d. [12 1/2p] as a souvenir of Combe Martin.
Both were happy with this arrangement and Norman would go off and buy his Woodbines with his share.
Norman also told me of a man who bought a silver ring from Mr. Begree, together with some of the ore. He had the ore melted down and made into a little jewel shape which was mounted on the ring.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
It is was lovely to see Betty and Tony recently when they were on holiday down here. Tony wonders if anyone can help him with an act of bravery that took place about 1945, when a lad called Peter Latimer saved a boy [or maybe dog] who was down here on holiday with his family. The boy had fallen down the shaft at the back of the cave known as the camel's eye. If you can, please give me a call. Thanks. Ed.
Off to Barnstaple
To travel about in World War Il was mostly by bus, walk or cycle and I remember an occasion when my mother and I 'thumbed' a lift on a coal lorry! She was lucky enough to sit in the cab, while I sat on a pile of sacks on the back. When I complained to her, I was told that "Third class riding is better than first class walking"! The summer was good and settled and my school pal, Don - who lived at Goosewell - and I decided to cycle to Barnstaple.
Yes, it's all right to sail down Pitt Hill, but you try shoving a bike up Hagginton Hill! There were few 3-speeds in those days, let alone all the multi-gears you have now. I got to Don's mother's cottage and he was ready, complete with packed lunch, and off we set, turning left into Slew Lane. How Don knew his way to Barnstaple, I don't know, since all the road signs had been removed for wartime purposes.
Shortly we spotted a barn in a field on the left. "Could be good for an owl's egg," said Don and we stopped and leant our bikes against the hedge. I climbed over the gate for a better look. There were very big doors to the barn but they didn't reach the earth floor. "I'll get under the doors, you wait here," I said to Don. I wriggled under and gradually my eyes got used to the light. The barn was full of someone's furniture and I soon found a wind-up gramophone. "I must have a go on this," I thought and finding a few records in the lid, put on a nice Strauss waltz! It had hardly got going when a loud voice boomed, "I think you had better come out of there." It was the farmer who had quietly turned up on his bike. We tried to explain that we were only looking for an owl's nest. "Well, maybe," said the farmer, "But they don't need music to hatch out their eggs. Now on your way." We quickly departed and continued on our way to Barnstaple.
We made for the river by the park and moored there was an old craft, like a Noah's ark with the boat-repairing shed in the middle. We made ourselves known to the old crippled gentleman who had rowing boats for hire and were soon afloat and making our way upstream. We were not very good at rowing and caught several 'crabs' and after reaching the railway bridge, we turned back to our starting point. A brief stroll around the park and then we were homeward bound. All thirsty work for a couple of young lads, so we stopped at the railway cottages to ask for a drink of water - this was quite usual and we were never refused.
I left Don at Goosewell and descended Hagginton Hill - always being concerned as to whether the cable brakes would give out. When I got to the bottom, I'd stop and splash the drum brakes with water from the stream and they would 'hiss' and give out a puff of steam. Happy days!
On another occasion, Don and I decided to cycle to Woolacombe - we went there quite often and after the usual push up to meet him, I would wait in their cottage whilst he got ready. The cottage was very small with no gas or electricity and only a cold tap in the kitchen. Lighting was provided by an oil lamp, which generally stood in the centre of the circular dining table on which, despite rationing, Don's mother always seemed to have a selection of fine cakes and other goodies. Cooking was done by some kind of paraffin cooker.
"Before we go," said Don, "Come and see my pet magpie." Sure enough, there in a parrot cage, was a magpie. "We don't let it out," he continued, "Because this is what it does." He showed me a shelf in the kitchen with a row of old cast iron saucepans. Taking one down, he tipped the hollow handle on to the table and out fell a teaspoon. "He takes anything bright and puts it down the handles."
Once ready, off we set, again down Slew Lane and over the top to Woolacombe. It must have been about 1939 and when we arrived at the beach we saw that it had been given hundreds of piles to stop any risk of invading planes landing there. This didn't stop our swim. Little did I know, at the time, of the undertow which could pull you under. Never go out of your depth there. Barricane beach nearby was also a favourite place, with its shells washed over from the Gulf of Mexico. Another thing we would do was to get a large slab by the edge and pull it up suddenly - if you were very lucky you might grab an eel.
When the Americans came into the War, they trained at Woolacombe. They used land/sea vehicles [DUKW*] and landing craft. There was one tragic occasion when a very rough sea was running and they were out training for the D Day landings, about 75 Americans who were, of course, heavily loaded with equipment, fell overboard and drowned. I believe a similar thing occurred at Slapton.
On a later visit to Woolacombe, Don and I were surprised to see down on the car park a complete theatre brought over and erected by the Americans - auditorium, stage and two dressing rooms. It makes you wonder what stars or members of ENSA appeared there.
In the early days of the War, when I was at Ilfracombe Grammar School, there was a lad who lived at Woolacombe who was woken one night by the howling of a dog. When he looked out of the window, he could hear the sound more plainly and realised that a dog had somehow got stranded on a rock in the sea. With no hesitation he ran down the beach, swam out and rescued it. He was commended that week in Assembly by the Headmaster, Mr. Tatten.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
*These American amphibious craft were known colloquially as 'ducks', as much from their shape and ability to go on land and water as their military code DUKW - the factory serial letters designating certain features of the vehicle. D Boat, U = Lorry Body and KW = Lorry Chassis.
One evening during the war, my half-brother Gerald came home from his job at North Lee Farm with the tiniest of lambs. Ile said it had been born prematurely and the ewe did not want to look after it.
The lamb was so small, you could hold it in one hand. It was very weak and we all thought it would not survive the night. My mother, who was so good in these matters, took over and placed the little creature on an old blanket by the fire. Its eyes were partly closed and it seemed hardly able to raise its head. Looking in the kitchen cupboard, my mother found an old baby's bottle and a packet with a teat in it; probably left behind when a friend and her baby had stayed with us.
She warmed some milk and offered it to our new and rather unusual pet. The little lamb slowly started to feed. "I'll stay up and see if I can get it through the night," said my mother. After several feeds through the night and to everyone's delight, Baa - as we decided to call her- was still alive and looking a little better by the morning.
An orphan lamb - Moules Farm 1972
Left - Sally Richards, Right - Helen Weedon
As each day went by, Baa picked up strength and put on weight. Gerald, my mother, my sister Jean and I developed a fondness for this lovely creature. We found an old dog collar for her and started taking her for walks. Sometimes she would be tethered on the lawn, but would get free and come knocking at the back door with her hoof. When she did this, she might be given a bottle and soon she got to associate 'knocking at the door and a bottle'.
We kept Baa for as long as we could, as one of the family pets, but of course she grew so much that her time with us had to come to an end.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
Down on the Farm Part 2 - Threshing
Once a year a firm from Braunton would send two men with a steam traction engine and a threshing machine out to Berrynarbor. They would start threshing perhaps at Barton Farm, then go on to Moules and later to Old Claude Richards's and Lester Bowden's. At each farm the men would stay the night and be given a good breakfast to start the next day, which began at about 6 a.m. They would have to align the two machines so that the wide drive belt between them would stay in place. Then they would have to get up steam and put a fine wire mesh around the area. The machines stood between two roofed but otherwise open buildings -- one side was full of the cereal to be threshed and the other empty. The men would start loading the thresher from the very high stack. There was a great deal of noise, smoke and dust, and straw particles flew everywhere. Grain would pour out of holes in the back of the machine to be caught in hessian sacks, whilst elsewhere loose straw would appear. Some of this went to the Government and some was kept for fodder.
When the height of the unthreshed crop got down to 1 or 2 feet, the rats would start running out - terrier dogs, people with pitch forks, and in some cases children with sticks or catapults, would all have a go and lots of rats were killed.
Because of the high cost of agricultural machinery in the early 1940's, the Government set up 'pools' of equipment from which the farmers hired their needs. In those days the farming community helped each other through harvesting and at other times when a bit of extra muscle was needed. On the small farms though much of the work had to be done by hand - planting potatoes with a two bill or scything a field of thistles or docks. Again my thanks to Bob, Ron and Rosslyn for their help.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
In wishing everyone a Happy New Year, Rosslyn Hammett writes:
I have remembered another little story and I wondered if anyone else can recall the incident? Pat Thirkell [his name is on the War Memorial in the churchyard], his mother and brother, Donald, lived in the Sterridge Valley during, and for a while after, the War. Apparently Pat was reprimanded by his C.O. after 'looping the loop' in his aircraft over the Village - he did it especially for his mother and it made headlines in the local paper!
You said you could not recall my aunt, Lily Chapple, to whom Ron Toms sends the Newsletter. Lily hasn't lived in Berrynarbor since her marriage. She was born Lilian Huxtable at Lower Rows Farm in 1916 and was married to George Chapple at St. Peter's in 1937. George was a 'Family Butcher' at 4 Portland Street, Ilfracombe, and later the business moved down to the High Street -- it is now Mike Turton's shop. My aunt kept the business going through the war years when George was in the RAF. She drove the delivery van, etc., and also nursed her crippled mother.
Sadly George died in 1998. My aunt, at 83, seems to enjoy hard work and despite two replacement hips and arthritis, is a very brave and independent lady who loves to read and hear of any news from Berrynarbor.
Down on the Farm
Recently, I had the pleasure of a long conversation with Ron Toms who, as you may know, spent his working life in agriculture and has a wonderful knowledge of past times in farming. He told me how when reaping the harvest some fields would be too steep to use horse-drawn machinery, so it was cut by a number of men using scythes. The corn was then gathered and tied with beams around the sheaf and stacked into stooks. When the corn was cut to just a narrow strip in the middle of the field, the rabbits would run out [as they did when the grass was cut for hay] and it was not unusual for a man to run after one and catch it - that would make a nice supper and little Jack Draper was a dab hand at this!
Ron talked about the times before cattle transport and to take a cow from A to B the procedure would often be to have a man in front in a cart, then the cow, and then a man behind. It was quite usual to drive bullocks to Barnstaple or Blackmoor Gate - a long walk when you think about it! On one occasion, Ron's step-father and two other men were taking a bull from Barton Farm to Barnstaple. Now bulls can be both vicious and dangerous - they might toss a wooden muck barrow in the air or turn on you. The plan was to take the bull across the fields as a short cut, but, no, he would have none of it! So they decided to take it up Castle Hill to Berry Down but when they got to a field at Whitefield Hill, the bull decided to take a rest. They pulled and pulled, but he would not get up. "I know, we'll give him a fright." What this was I don't know, but the bull suddenly got up and took off, dragging one of the men still holding the rope across the field. Eventually they got the beast to Muddiford and on to Barnstaple Station, where it was loaded onto the train.
Marmaduke - Marmaduke was a cockerel who lived at North Lee Farm and his hobby was to attack people! Stan Huxtable, who farmed there at the time, employed a lad by the name of Eddie Preece and Marmaduke would often go for Eddie or anyone else who got in his way. One day Stan was leaning over a stream washing his boots when Marmaduke struck, pecking at the back of his neck! He brushed him off and finished cleaning his boots. Next day, Stan's daughter, Rosslyn, remarked that she had not seen Marmaduke. "Oh, I expect you'll see him soon," replied her father. The following day the family enjoyed a very nice lunch and Stan remarked to Rosslyn, "You don't have to worry about Marmaduke any more, that was him!"
The Sheep Dip - To get rid of parasites, sheep dipping was done once a year. At East Hagginton Farm, they had rigged up appropriate hurdles and dug a trench, lined with corrugated iron and filled with water and the appropriate solution. As the sheep jumped into the water, a man with a crook pushed each one under before it climbed out on the other side. A policeman had to be present, by law, to see that the task was carried out properly and on one occasion the policeman, getting rather bored with watching, asked to help. "Why not," came the reply just as the policeman slipped and into the dip he went! He was taken into the farm and sat by the fire whilst he and his uniform dried out.
Farm Buildings - many old farm buildings are made from cob a composite of clay, gravel, straw and other things. Rosslyn Huxtable, now Hammett, told me of the time when they decided to have a new window cut into a wall at North Lee. Mr. Norman was given the job to chop out, with a crow bar and chisel, a suitable aperture. Not an easy task when you think that the wall was nearly five feet thick! Part of the exposed ceiling revealed lathes held with shoeing nails and the work also revealed a fireplace thought to be around 800 years old! Rosslyn also spoke to me about farm life and the hard lives they had. When her father was only 9 years old, he would have to get up early and milk the cows, and after a day at school having walked there and back - he would milk the cows again. Two words she told me which I hadn't heard before, the cows have got the 'oosk' a cough, and give you a 'winder' - a clip round the ear.
My thanks to Bob Richards, Ron Toms and Rosslyn Hammett for their help with this article, and my regards to Berrynarbor.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
Not long after receiving Tony's article, I was delighted to receive a letter from Rosslyn Hammett [nee] Huxtable, in which she says, 'I wonder if any of the following will be of interest?' Need she ask?
My great-grandfather, Richard Huxtable, grandfather, William Henry Huxtable, and my father, Stanley Huxtable, all farmed at North Lee Farm for a number of years and I lived there for the first thirty-four years of my life.
I believe my grandfather was the first person in Berrynarbor to have gas installed? Also the first to have a wireless - it was a 'Murphy'! I remember going on the bus with my mother to have the accumulators re-charged for sixpence at P. Friend, High Street, Ilfracombe. We had to be very careful not to tip them over because they were filled with acid!
We had an open fire in the back kitchen, my father always had a large supply of sticks and logs to burn. In the other room, also known as the kitchen, there was a black range, 'Bodley', which was kept clean and shiny with black lead, 'Zebo'.
There was a gas light in each room and always candles to light the way to bed, with hot bricks wrapped in a piece of flannel to warm the bed [highly dangerous], hot water bottles came later. It wasn't until 1949 that we had electricity and the black range was replaced with a 'Modern Devon Grate'. When the range went, the black beetles also disappeared! All water had to be carried into the house either in a kettle or a bucket - the kettles in those days used to get very 'furred' up.
We had stone floors downstairs, slate slabs and lime-ash, I think. It was very much like 'the house that Jack built', the only floor covering was a couple of coconut fibre mats. The stone floors were washed every day and took several hours to dry, especially in winter.
We had an earth toilet, a slated building with whitewashed walls, situated away from the farmhouse. In later years we had an 'Elsan' chemical toilet, which was a slight improvement, but it wasn't until the early seventies that my mother had a flush toilet. The North Devon District Council bought Pitt Meadow from us for E850 and installed their sewerage scheme, which did benefit some houses.
In spite of what must seem great hardship in this day and age, the freedom of growing up in Berrynarbor was wonderful all those years ago.
By Now we Had Settled In
The war was under way by now and my sister Jean and I were to attend Ilfracombe Grammar School. I remember the first bus journey and arriving. In their haste to get us to school, my mother and Gerald [my half-brother] had forgotten to tell us where the school was! 'Oh, well,' we thought, 'Just follow the other kids,' which we did. It was a fine school, designed for 300 pupils but at one time its numbers swelled to about 700. If you had fainted during Assembly, you would not have fallen down!
Jean was nearly always top of her class, while I was the same - well, I was if you turned the mark sheet upside down! There may have been a reason for this. Prior to moving to Devon I was friendly with a lad whose parents were addicted to the cinema. They would go nearly every night, taking Gordon and I with them with the result that we were too tired to absorb much of our lessons the next day! Another reason was that I was young - only 10 at the 11+ school - and it was like trying to read a book from which someone had torn out the middle pages. After a while the Headmaster suggested I leave, get some special tuition and then return. This was arranged and I was sent to a retired schoolmaster up Shute Lane in Combe Martin. I would cycle there every day, but academically I just got worse! I returned to the Grammar School but had lost it! I had enjoyed it there and made several friends. It was a very modern and well-equipped school in its day and I still have newsletters from Miss Gent, who was my Maths teacher. It is interesting to learn who has done what, and despite the huge classes [mine had 53 pupils], most have gone on to be successful in their lives and careers.
Around 1941-2, due to a shortage of labour on the farms, a scheme was devised for school children to be taken by bus to farms to assist with potato lifting. You could volunteer and be issued with little blue cards upon which the wages, 9d [4p] per hour, could be recorded. 'This is for me' I thought, and jumped at the chance!
Since I was not achieving much at the Grammar School, it was decided that I should go to Adelaide College -- a private school - and it was whilst I was here that I hit on a devious plan. I approached farmer Bert Watts at Lydford Farm with a tale that we were to be given a certain day off, and asked him if he had any work. He had and on that certain day I was given the job of pulling cabbage stumps at a field on the bend opposite Widmouth Farm. The road there is cut into the hill and glancing up from pulling stumps, I could see a double decker bus approaching. As it got nearer I could just about make out someone waving from the top deck. As it drew level, I realised it was my mother who thought I was at school it did not go down too well and that was the end of that initiative!
During this time, when I was up to no good, my mother invited family and friends to come and stay to get them away from the risks of being near London. But none stayed long, home sickness and the remoteness soon had them returning.
Jean remained at the Grammar School until she was 15, leaving to go to Barnstaple School of Art, where she did two years and her talent was rewarded by the offer of a job. She would paint, in oil, pictures of the Hangman Hills in limpet shells to earn a bit of cash, and these were sold at the village shop and at a kiosk at Watermouth Caves for half-a-crown, 2s.6d. [121hp] with her 'cut' being 6d. [2 1,4p]. Knowing that she would be called into the Services, she took a job at Leonard Bowden's farm - Sloley - where on an Exmoor pony she would round up sheep and cows, feed the animals, kill and pluck the turkeys at Christmas, work the milking machine and do all the jobs of a general farm. One day when she was left on her own, a cow was due to calf. She coped well and Leonard and his wife were more than pleased.
Gerald worked on Stan Huxtable's farm, Northlea, where he fitted in well and even to this day people speak well of him. One day Stan asked him to take his old cart horse, Tidy, to Combe Martin to be shod. Gerald always said that if you watched Tidy closely, you could see him move! Dressed in his usual summer attire of straw hat, open shirt, shorts and sandals, Gerald sat on an old sack astride Tidy, plodding along until they came to the bus queue when Gerald raised his hat and asked, 'Excuse me, but have the hounds passed this way?' Once when he was in the shippen [cow shed] an idea occurred to him. He had noticed that as soon as the cows' chains were released after milking, they walked out into the road and covered it with muck. Since it was his job to keep the road clean, he thought 'Why don't I just rattle the chains?' It worked, and there was much less sweeping required!
On another occasion in the shippen, Gerald leant over behind a cow called White Socks. At that moment, White Socks coughed and it would be indelicate to give a graphic description of what happened, but his jacket was open with Stan's paying-in book and pipe in the inside pocket! Stan's wife, Bessie, cleaned up his coat but they all agreed that White Socks was no lady!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES - MOVING HOUSE
The Beauclerk family was on holiday at Slade in late July 1939, the war was looming and we had booked a month's hire of a holiday house. There were four of us - my mother Vi, my half-brother Gerald, my sister Jean and myself. My father died in 1936, having lost his first wife in 1922 and my half-brother Gerald, thirty years my senior, took over looking after us all, as he had never married.
For some time Gerald had toyed with the idea of a holiday house, perhaps letting it when we were not using it, and with the serious international situation, he thought now was the time to act. A visit to the estate agent provided us with two houses to view - one was at the top of Combe Martin, near the Church, and the other was Meadow Dene [now called Well Cottage]. The asking price for Meadow Dene was El ,000, which was quite a lot of money in those days, but this was the one we liked. As it was a Friday and late in the day, we hurried back to the agent and Gerald made an offer of E950, which was accepted right away. At Gerald's request, the agent rang a firm of solicitors, Messrs. Rowe, Watts and Wood, who said, "We are very sorry, but we do not work on Saturdays, so we won't be able to attend to the sale until Monday - the house won't be yours until Tuesday."
Our holiday house hire was coming to and end, so until furniture, etc., could be purchased, we had to bed and breakfast it, moving to accommodation at the bottom of Northfield Road, Ilfracombe. The window of the bedroom I was in was right by the traffic lights, so all night the room changed red, amber and green. The sequence stuck in my mind and came in handy for my driving test later in life!
After visits to Skinner and Squire [furniture] and other shops for crockery, cutlery, etc., we were able to move in. What a wonderful view from the front of the house! To the left Sterridge Valley, straight across to Hagginton Hill, and to the right a field, woods and the Bristol Channel. The accommodation was good - a bedroom each, sitting room, dining room, bathroom and two loos. There was no mains water but a well with a pump in the lean-to. The rule was quickly established that if you used the 100, you must give 40 pumps to replenish the tank on the roof and about 200 pumps if you had a bath. Later, we were connected to the mains from, I think, a small reservoir owned by Farmer Fred Richards. One summer when there was a drought, the well came back into use, not only for us but also for our neighbours.
As the premises had been empty for some years, the garden and hedges were very overgrown. Fortunately, a man came up from the village who could lay or 'steep' hedges and he made an excellent job of it and we could now enjoy the view from ground level.
At the Essex house we had a large lawn which accommodated two badminton courts and we were going to miss them. Gerald, however, suggested that we level the land to make a grass court in our new garden - after measuring, we set to with barrow, spades, rakes, etc., and put what had been quite a slope into a banked up and nicely flat area. Farmer Jim Chugg of Mill Farm agreed to us removing turf from his adjoining field and we soon had it grassed over. It was a nice garden, with hydrangeas, monkey puzzle trees [still there], various shrubs which we had unearthed, and a fruit which I'd never come across before - on a reddish, hairy vine, the fruit was like a raspberry except the particles were clear. Called 'wineberries', they were tasty and could be eaten raw or used for jam or wine. Has anyone come across them?
A small stream ran through the garden, so my mother and I got some cement and made a good little pond. Alas, the rains came and the fish were washed away!
A chicken house was needed as we had had our hens sent down from Essex. "Hedley Nicholls is your man", we were told, so Gerald and I set off to his workshop, part way down Pitt Hill. When we got there, Hedley was busy making a coffin. At my tender age I was taken back a bit! Hedley made us a fine chicken house that lasted not only through the war, but also for many years after that. The droppings boards were made of English oak - their intention obvious. Enough said!
One day Gerald said, "If this place has a septic tank, I wonder when it was last emptied?" Since no-one knew, it was decided it had better be done, just in case, and Gerald contacted Long Jack Draper who advised us that the usual procedure was to dig an adjacent pit and empty the tank in to it, leave it a few days and then cover it up with earth. At this time my mother had two dogs, a spaniel called Bill and a Pomeranian called Tiny. Tiny was inquisitive and had to examine what was going on. Standing too near the edge of the open pit, she slid in! Although she was promptly yanked out and dumped in a tin bath with Jeyes Fluid, she did have a 'presence' for a few days!
Soon after we moved in Gerald got his call-up papers, but failed his medical due to a heart problem, so was advised he would have to do work of national importance. He was given a job as a labourer on Stan Huxtable's farm, North Lee. My sister Jean and I were sent to Ilfracombe Grammar School and my mother looked after the house.
We began growing vegetables but the rabbits thought we were doing it for them! How to deal with them? Mr. Leaworthy was the man. When he arrived he had two bags in his hands and one sticking out of his pocket. We were puzzled, but it soon became clear. One bag contained two ferrets and the other the nets. He pegged the nets around the holes and then popped in a ferret. Soon the rabbits ran out into the nets and were caught. He killed them with a chop of his hand and into the bag they went. Every year he would come to us and do this, missing a couple or so - but then that's all you need for next year's job!
Tony Beauclerk, Colchester
The Home Guard
The Local Defence Volunteers [LDVI formed in 1940 was soon renamed the Home Guard. Combe Martin and Berrynarbor Horne Guard was formed at about this time and each one was called a Platoon. There was an age limit of 65, but this was not strictly observed and no medical was required. Men above army age  and those in reserved occupations, such as agricultural workers, joined. I remember a bank official, a former headmaster and former service men. At the initial meeting held at the Manor Hall, it was decided who would be in charge, who would be given rank, and so on. Promotions were later given to others if they passed their proficiency tests, such as map reading, shooting, field craft, camouflage, hand signals [instead of talking], ways to crawl and dismantling and reassembling a machine gun in total darkness. The very heavy Lee Enfield rifles were kept at home with the ammunition, but machine guns, grenades and sten guns were kept elsewhere. To help you use the Lee Enfield, a special drill was given called 'pokey' drill, devised to strengthen the wrist. Initially, however, the platoon had to make do with pikes, shot guns, air guns or anything else to hand.
The use of a bungalow at Berry Dow-n was negotiated and this was to form the base for patrol every two hours at night down to Lynton Cross, looking for parachutists or anything else suspicious to report. In the early days, about eight men were taken by van to the bungalow where, if they were not on patrol, they might get a bit of sleep on the palliasses [straw mattresses] provided . At first, men had to make their own way back which they tried to do more or less in a straight line - crossing fields of cattle and sheep, ditches, hedges and streams. There were no lights, just moonlight if you were lucky. In due course, transport was provided both ways.
Accidents happen and the Home Guard was no exception. At Combe Martin, a Blacker Bombard went off unexpectedly and blew Sid Blackmore's hand off. At Berrynarbor, Jim Floyd dropped a hand grenade after pulling out the pin. Fortunately, Sergeant Long Jack Draper quickly picked it up and threw it before it went off. Some got minor scratches from the shrapnel. I understand there was a 4-7 second delay between pulling out the pin and the actual explosion, depending on the type. Hand grenades were also fired by cup dischargers using a special ballistic cartridge. The rifle could project the grenade 40-50 yards. There were some amusing happenings too. My half-brother, Gerald, and Jack Foster reported back to Berry Down that there was a huge glow in the sky, probably something set alight by incendiaries but something to be urgently looked at. It turned out to be the sunrise! Gerald and Jack used to 'ping' the bell on the school in the early days with an air gun. It was said in shooting practice at the Manor Hall, that the piano was shot and the woodworm cleared off to The Globe to ask, "Is the bar tender here?" I don't think that was true!
One night, on manoeuvres, Berrynarbor Platoon thought a different approach to surprise the Combe Martin Platoon would be to go there by boat. Oars had to be home made [proper ones were locked away] and they tried to embark at Watermouth. Although the boat did not actually capsize, they got a bit of a wetting and had to abandon the idea. An unusual sight would be a farmer, straight off duty, wearing his uniform but for a bowler hat.
One night, someone called to say an invasion was imminent. My mother was ill at the time, so I prepared sandwiches for Gerald while he got on his uniform, pack, gas mask, rifle and the rest of the paraphernalia. Fortunately, nothing happened, but I know my mind was racing with 'what iP'. When the Hangman hills were set alight by incendiaries, the Home Guard were given beaters to put out the flames.
After a while, the Home Guard became an extension of the Army and a small attendance allowance was made.
I was not in the Home Guard myself as I was too young, but I do remember them. I can recall Messrs. Peachey, Newman, Draper, Richards, Delboss and many others, though I am unsure of their ranks. I am sure all the men got on well together and when the Home Guard was disbanded in November 1944, they could all feel proud that they had done their best. Each was awarded a medal and a citation for their service and being prepared to give their lives for their country.
My thanks to Bob Richards and Ron Toms for their help with this article.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
If you keep back issues of the Newsletter, and I know some of you do, in his article Old Berrynarbor No. 43 [October 1996], Tom Bartlett provided a photograph of the Home Guard outside the Manor Hall around 1940. Amongst those 'present and correct' were Commander Peachey, Sergeant Newman and Messrs. Floyde [Dick and Jim], Dummett [Syd and Lionel], Challacombe, Brookman, Toms, Draper [Denzil and Jack], Brooks, Boyen, Snell, Beauclerk, Huxtable [Reg and Fred], Nicholls, Jones, Leaworthy, Penhale, Vallance, Thorne, Osborne, Hacker, Perrin and Snell.
During my stay at Berrynarbor during World War Il, I made a number of friends and this is the tale of a couple of very ingenious lads. Both lived in the Sterridge Valley - the first was Derek Altree of Holmleigh. Some of you may remember him and his mother and father. His father, Percy, was a postman, who also grew delicious tomatoes where Chicane now stands. I understand that his greenhouses were constructed from window structures of bombed factories. Percy had quite a lot of land which he cultivated, involving a lot of hard work carried out mostly by hand. The second lad was Donald Thirkle, who lived with his mother at Hillside, further up the road.
One day, whilst rummaging around in the undergrowth on the lane to Ruggaton, Donald came across a roof- that is to say the roof of a car. Pulling aside the tangled folliage, he discovered it was a very old Austin 7. On making enquiries, he learned that it belonged to Len Bowden and had once been used as a chicken house. After some discussion and haggling and the parting of a E, he and Derek dug it out. The very dilapidated remains were caned over to the Altree's, where what remained of the body was removed, leaving just the chassis, wheels and engine.
Now Donald had, I understand, worked on aircraft engines and Derek was pretty mechanically minded, so they talked about whether it could be made to work again and decided to have a go. They dismantled everything - cleaning, checking, repairing, making bits and then putting it all together again.
Unfortunately, in those days car batteries were hard to find and without one all their efforts would be in vain. Not to be beaten [and DO NOT try this at home!], they somehow rigged up and used the main electricity supply - a most dangerous thing to do! But, after some fiddling, the engine fired and Sbingo', they had got it going! It ran quite well.
Percy, who had watched the lads with interest, started thinking about a use for this new weird vehicle. After a while he came up with the idea Of it becoming a tractOr. 'L' shaped plates were bolted direct on to the wheels and a driver's seat built on. He managed to get a battery and I believe a second gear box was fitted to give power at low speeds. A plough was made to suit the job and cultivation became a 'doddle' for Percy and his vegetables! Talk about necessity being the mother of invention -you have to admire them don't you?
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
In 1943, when I was about 14, I decided to join the Air Training Corps. I went along to the old Ilfracombe Grammar School, collected my uniform and found out when parades were to be held. These were at the school, where we learned about aircraft recognition, Morse code and marching commands, with each one of us taking a turn at shouting out the orders.
This all went very well and there were some enjoyable dances held at Southcombes. After these, we would all pile into one of the old Austin 16 taxis to get home to Combe Martin or Berrynarbor.
Some time later, it was decided to hold extra Sunday parades for our C Flight at the then Combe Martin Secondary School. These were very successful, with Pilot Officer Jimmy Herbert in charge. Jimmy was very keen and thought it would be better if we had our own building. He kindly negotiated the use of a timber building at the back of Loverings Garage, which was duly whitewashed, hung with posters and provided with tables and chairs.
Jimmy was the Landlord of the London Inn and although most lads lived at the seaside end, he would march us the 1 1/2 miles to his pub before we were dismissed! Sometimes he would treat some of the lads to a beer.
I had hoped, liked other lads in the ATC, to get the chance to fly, but my name never seemed to come up, and this is where my story takes a different turn.
During those dark years of World War Il, people would offer hospitality to servicemen and our family got to know a Polish airman, Vladek Cherpak. He would come and stay with us and quite often borrow Stanley Huxtable's [North Lee Farm] twelve bore shot gun and then take me to Ruggaton [the Bowden's]. There he would pot off several rabbits, take them home, prepare them, boil the meat and then fry them with onions - a very welcome dish in those days.
One day, Vladek asked me if I would like a flight. I jumped at the chance, so a trip in his car to Chivenor was arranged. He was in his Flight Sergeant's uniform and I was wearing my ATC uniform. When we arrived at the first entrance to the aerodrome, the Guard said, "No cadets allowed in." "Never mind", said Vladek, "We'll go to the other entrance. Put on my overcoat, get down in the seat with the collar well turned up." This I did and we sailed through the other entrance without so much as a 'who goes there?' To think, I had three stripes and a crown on my arm!
He took me to the Sergeant's Mess where, he spoke to some friends in Polish and later to a shed to get a Mae West [lifejacket]. A Wellington bomber was waiting on the runway, its engines running and Vladek called "Come on Tony, in you go." In no time we were taking off and heading for the Bristol Channel. Looking down I saw a strange triangular raft with a pole in the middle. On the top of the pole was what looked like a large round basket. "You're on a smoke bombing practice" I was told and down we dived, so fast I felt my feet were leaving the floor, dropping the bombs and banking around for another go. This went on for about an hour, and need I say, I was airsick, but soon recovered! Landing safely and home in time for tea, this is my only experience of flying, although I did go parascending at Looe a couple of years ago.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
The silver mines around this area were of many, many years ago, but during World War Il there were some of a very different type. When I was travelling to school one morning, seated upstairs on the bus, as we passed the coastguard houses and going towards Hele, looking down to the sea and rocks there was a mine of the explosive kind! I understand it was dragging its cable. Later in the afternoon there was a loud explosion, when it must have hit the rocks and gone off. I think there were a few broken windows in Hele!
My second experience of mines was when a friend and I thought we would pay a visit to Broadsands. What a lovely beach that is! When we got to the bottom of the steps, there standing at the high tide mark was a washed-up mine. We gingerly had a look but not too close. To this day l do not know if it was live or had been de-fused. A few days later we went back to have another look, but it had gone. No doubt the appropriate authorities had removed it.
The last experience was rather different. Remember the blackout when no lights were to be shown - although cars and buses were allowed very small masked headlights. Like most other people, I carried a torch. One night, I took a walk to Combe Martin and as I started to go towards Seaside, I saw an extraordinary sight below me. It was like a half moon, glowing green. It was all along the high tide line of the harbour beach. When I got down to the beach, I found that the green glow was made of fragments offish. One piece I picked up was of octopus. The cause was a mine which had exploded in an area rich in fish and the resultant pieces glowed with phosphorous. A strange sight indeed. There is, of course, a lot of phosphorous in the sea, but with all the light shining from illuminations, street lamps, etc., you are unlikely to see anything of the like these nights.
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester
In 1939, in preparation for what seemed likely to be World War II, the Beauclerks bought Meadow Dene [now Well Cottage] for £950. They lightly furnished it to make it liveable and moved in for what they thought would be a temporary stay and thinking they would have holidays there and perhaps let it.
However, not much later they received a Government Notice to say their house in Essex was required for military accommodation. This being the case, everything in the house had to be got out as soon as possible. Arrangements were made with farmer Jim Chugg of Mill Farm [Mill Park] to rent the mill for the storage of all our possessions. Wardrobes, chests of drawers, bookcases, everything still full was brought from Essex and stored at the mill.
As a boy I would go down to the mill where my toys were and sometimes set up a clockwork train set or fiddle with levers on the mill in the hope of seeing the water wheel tum - it never did because the mill pond had long since gone and the only water flowing was probably draining from the road.
One day I went there with a friend and whilst rummaging around, we found a leather cigar case, and sure enough, there was a cigar in it. Well, what do young boys do when they find a cigar? You've guessed, we smoked it. A number of years later, my mother said, "I wonder what happened to the cigar Winston Churchill gave your father?" Whoops!
It was during my years in Berrynarbor, from 1939 to the aid of 1945, when incendiaries were rained down on the Hangman Hills. Like other lads, I was always wanting souvenirs and so I decided to take the long walk to Combe Martin and on to the Hangmans.
When I got there, the bracken was all burnt and I met some people who told me that there were two HE's [high explosives] near West Challacombe or Girt Farms, which had killed a cow and a seagull. I searched for the spent casings but only found a dead, curled up adder and decided I might as well go home. On reaching Lester Point I some who said they were going to go and look too, so I said I'd join them and off we all went.
This time I did find an old casing which I took home. I put it on the kitchen table and scraped around inside with a penknife. In the comer of the casing I found a small amount of unburnt silvery powder [magnesium] which I scraped out on to a piece of paper and tipped on to the enamel top of my mother's cooker. Lighting it with a match, there was a brightly lit puff of smoke and a rough patch of enamel about the size of a 50p piece on the cooker.
Whoops - again!
Tony Beauclerk - Colchester