Memories of life in Charfield
"Whilst in the mood I have edited my 'family edition' of my "Memories" just to include the Charfield bits." - Valerie Sibley, 2009.
I was born in London on 10th May 1937. My mother developed pleuperal fever and died on 6th June 1937 and I was legally adopted by my grandparents at Barking. I was rather spoilt, especially by my Dad. Mum was quite Victorian and strict !
In September 1940 life started to change for everyone. War had been declared a year before and we had an Anderson air-raid shelter in our garden. I can well remember going down the steps into the shelter when there was an air-raid and not liking it at all. The toilet was a bucket behind a screen in the corner and often we had seven or eight neighbours there with us. My father had no intention of leaving Barking while he had a job - war or not !
One morning Dad went off to work and was soon back home. A bomb had fallen on the factory and so he had no job !. Mum evidently kept a case packed for emergencies so we left everything as it was - the table still set for breakfast - and off we went to Paddington to get the train to Bristol and on to Charfield. Vi had said already that there was a job for Dad at Brooke Bonds where she worked, the factory having been evacuated from London , if he wanted it and she could find us accommodation. Mum sent her a telegram telling her we were on our way. A WVS lady at Paddington gave me a Rupert book, which I still have "Rupert in the Wood of Mystery".
Val on a tricycle
We moved into 2 rooms close to the school. Our landlady's name was Mrs. Gurney. Vi lived there too. It seems Mum spent a lot of her time pushing me round the village in the pram. The local headmaster "Gaffer Bullen" as he was known affectionately asked if she would like him to take me into school, so of course I started school at 3 and as far as I remember I enjoyed it very much.
It was a Cotswold stone building with indoor toilets and wash basins.
One day Mum met one of the local landlords, Mr. Goscombe, and he offered her a cottage at 1s.6d. a week (7.1/2p) Of course she accepted and we moved in. I had already started to go to the Sunday school at the Congregational Church and on the day after we moved in Mum had to stop her housework to take me as it was still too far for me to go on my own. It was a nice little stone cottage with wooden shutters and a staircase in a cupboard. There was one large bedroom which I shared with my parents and Vi had her bed on the landing - it was a big landing. Downstairs there was one large living/dining room with a coal-fired range and then a large kitchen with a built-in larder. There was no electricity and no gas and no running water. The toilet was at the bottom of the garden - a wooden seat with 2 holes and 2 lids ( adults and children), over a bucket which had to be emptied periodically into a hole somewhere in the garden !. We had a well with a bucket on a chain and a hooked pole for fishing for the bucket if the chain broke. All water had to be boiled before you could drink it. We used candles and a petrol lamp for lighting and had a radio which ran on accumulators which had to be taken to the local garage to be recharged now and again. The coal-fired kitchen range had a small water compartment with a tap and there was an oven too. I remember Dad loved large onions baked in the oven which he ate with a piece of cheese and bread and sometimes with butter if there was any !. Everything was rationed. The range had to be cleaned with black-lead, which became one of my jobs. I now use something similar to clean the iron hobs on my electric cooker! We didn't have a fire-guard but there was a kerb round the stove with a seat on each end, with lids that lifted so you could keep coal or wood in them. This was all a far cry from the Barking house which had an Ascot gas water heater and a bathroom; even though the toilet was outside it had a flush!
It was a lovely cottage and had many features that I remember. Under the living room window there was a large box seat in which I kept toys. I often sat there to read too and that's where I learnt to knit. Vi taught me when I was about 5. I got mixed up with plain and purl at first but I remember knitting a brown and yellow twin-set before I was 9. Mum knitted socks for soldiers and for her own 2 boys who were in the Forces, and for Dad, when she wasn't mending other garments. She had a sewing machine so got a bit of work from Brooke Bonds altering overalls for the workers. She also made most of my clothes - material was rationed too so dresses just had bits joined on to make them longer.
Eventually we gave up the London house and Mum sorted out the furniture and it was all sent to Charfield in a Pickfords container by rail - including my dolls pram and tricycle and Mums washing machine which we used as a water-tank . I remember seeing the container in the yard at the Station. It was delivered by a mechanical horse - a 3 wheeled tractor unit.
I well remember getting my first kitten. The manager of Brooke Bond had a bungalow next door to the factory. Their cat had kittens and I was allowed to go and choose one for my 4th birthday. I picked a little tabby (male) and was very proud of the new member of the family who ate bread soaked in milk and seemed to like to ride in the basket on the handlebars of my trike. I used to try dressing him in dolls clothes but he didn't like that very much. I called him "Fluffy" because he had fairly long fur which had to be brushed and combed from time to time. A lot of my other cats over the years have had the same name. He used to go hunting and would sometimes bring home a rabbit, which he didn't have for long ! Meat was rationed and Mum would get it away from him and cook it for us - he grew into quite a large cat !
The vet was a long way away so we had to learn how to dress his wounds ourselves. He always seemed to understand we were trying to help him and didn't struggle too much. Sometimes he was shut into the pantry to catch a mouse that had been hungry enough to stray indoors ! He was a very good hunter ! In those days there wasn't any tinned cat food and he had to eat scraps from the table or fund his own food - sometimes birds unfortunately, then I used to get a piece of cloth and bury them in the garden with a cross to make their graves, with flowers on.
There were other children living near our new home and I soon made friends with them. We all went to the same school and it was about 25 minutes walk. Usually we stayed to lunch and took our sandwiches and drinks with us, although we got milk at school and orange juice too. The village school catered for children from 5 to 14 (which was school leaving age at that time). We were divided into three groups - the infants in one room, the 7 - 10's and the older ones in one large room with a sliding door to divide it into two rooms. The Scholarship exam was taken when the headmaster thought a pupil was ready for it, so I took it at 9.1/2 and passed. Those who did not pass stayed on there until 14 and those who passed went to Wotton-under-Edge to the Grammar School. I should have gone there but fate intervened and we moved back to London but that's another part of the story. Some of the children who stayed until 14 couldn't read or write. On the other side of the playground was another building where we had our lunch and also did sewing classes and gym, unless it was good enough weather to be outdoors either in the playground or on the large playing field behind the school. It was also our theatre and we put on some displays especially for Officers of the US Army for American Thanksgiving Day or Independence Day. I remember once one of them wanting me to sit on his knee and I wouldn't. Eventually he came and picked me up. He said I reminded him of his little girl back in the States. We sang "America" and the "Star Spangled Banner" and they gave us sweets and toys and at Christmas we got stockings full of goodies too. I remember being Colorado one year, when we formed a map of the USA.
The playground was quite large and one side faced the main road - opposite was the Church of England Parish Church of St. John where we went for Harvest Festival and probably Christmas services too . The school was between the Railway Station and Tortworth Court. Often columns of troops marched past while we were playing and we would run to the railings asking "Got any gum chum ?". Sometimes they threw up packets of chewing gum which we swooped on - sometimes we just got smiles from the soldiers. Years later I realised these were columns of German prisoners of war. I don't suppose they understood a word.
In spite of the war we went on outings from school. I remember going to the Zoo in Bristol, by train and then bus. The headmaster's Christian name was Alfred and, unfortunately for him; the very large old gorilla at the Zoo had the same name so of course we used to have fun calling the Gorilla "Gaffa" - the headmaster's nickname. We also went once a year to Weston-super-Mare - yes, the whole school on the train. We had games and picnic on the beach but the sea went out so far there wasn't often a chance to paddle. I didn't mind because I never did like waves.
We also had allotments behind the school where we learned to grow vegetables. I remember being very proud of my little piece of garden. In fact we had about half an acre of land around the cottage and my father loved growing his own vegetables. I used to collect the butterfly eggs from the cabbage leaves and keep them in jam-jars until they turned into caterpillars and then see how many would eventually turn into butterflies ! He grew potatoes and other vegetables, runner-beans , peas, beetroot and lettuces and radishes in summer, brussel-sprouts and cabbages and turnips. In fact he spent most of his spare time in the garden and loved it. He settled very quickly and easily into country life.
We did a lot of acting in the primary and I remember the story of the lion caught in a net and the mouse who gnawed through the net to let him out as if it had only been yesterday that I acted it !. We also did lots of exercises where you had to put the words in a sentence in the correct order, or sort out the spellings of mixed up words. I really liked going that but I wasn't so keen on maths - ever !
I also remember the visit of the Dentist and the Nit-Nurse - least said the better. Sometimes children got hair lice and had to have their hair washed with special shampoo - and I got the same treatment just in case. They also used liquid paraffin which was very effective in showing up the eggs. The local clinic was in Wotton-under-Edge and there was a bus every 2 hours. As I was not a very good patient Vi got the job of taking me there for immunisations and dental treatment. Once we missed the bus and a friend of Vi's stopped in his car to give us a lift and I refused to get in, so we walked all the way - I did say I was spoilt, but I suppose someone might have wondered what was happening if she had bundled me into the car screaming. I don't suppose I had ever been in one come to think of it. The Doctor was also at Wotton and you had to get your medicine at the surgery not at the chemist. You also had to pay before the National Health Service started in 1948 but I think we belonged to the Hospital Savings Association (HSA) and so got some of it back. I used to get sore throats and colds quite frequently and there was talk about having my tonsils removed but it never happened. At one time I didn't eat much so I was fed Parrish's Food and Phospherine tonics to improve my appetite. Then every week there was Syrup of Figs as a laxative !.
Not many people had cars but the garage opposite the Railway Tavern and Mr. Francombe ran a Taxi service, mainly for hospital visits and emergencies, as petrol was also rationed. The farmers had cars to pull trailers to take their animals to market and one such trailer swung out one day and knocked one of the older village girls off her bicycle. She had very bad head injuries and was ill for a long time and eventually died. She was one of the brightest girls at the Grammar School.
At holidays and weekends we had a super time playing in the fields and streams near home and further away if we dared. There was a brick works the other side of the railway and we used to like to go down to the woods near the clay-pits and watch the buckets of clay on the overhead line going into the factory. Some of the kids had parents who worked there and they had written the children's names on the buckets. We used to watch for "our" bucket to go past. There was a crossing over the lines, near the large electric transformer down Mill Lane but we often walked the long way round to the Copse, over the bridge and through the fields and over the stone walls too. In summer we would dam a little stream so we could paddle and try to catch fish. We always broke the dam at the end of the day.
We had to learn about poisonous plants and berries. The most common was the deadly nightshade - a very attractive red berry and very, very deadly poisonous. There was a family near the blacksmiths with 3 or 4 children and the eldest, a boy, was deaf and dumb. One day he and his small brother and sister were playing in the field. They must have got hold of some berries when he wasn't looking. He ran home with them when they showed him what they had eaten but he couldn't make his parents understand how urgent it was to get a doctor or try to make them sick. By the time the parents understood it was too late and they both died.
We used to love to go down to the blacksmiths shop - the stone slab on the right of the postcard is in front of the blacksmiths forge - and watch him putting shoes on the horses. We were always welcome but had to be quiet so as not to disturb the horse. Sometimes he was just making horseshoes so we could watch him at the forge and on the anvil - fascinating at any age !
The blacksmiths and the tailor's shops were in the main road, as were the other small village shops. For a small village we had quite a few shops, although food was rationed. There were three food shops that sold everything - fruit, vegetables, groceries and sweets, plus a Butchers shop in Mill Lane.
We used to get most of our food from the Miss Pugh's near the Congregational Church. Next the Railway Tavern there was a green grocers, Mr Evans. There was also a sweet shop down Station Road, on the right nearly at the end of the station yard. The Post Office, formerly in the tailor's shop, moved to a very modern building at the top of our road and there was a telephone box outside. As well as the Railway Tavern there were three more pubs in the village itself and several more on the outskirts.
There was also the Richardson Hut where they put on plays and people could play Billiards. The Women's Institute met there too. Some weekends they held dances there and we kids went along for a while. Once a year there was the Village Fete with Clay pigeon shooting and a fruit and vegetable show and guess the weight of the pig and a display of chickens, geese, goats and sheep and cows not forgetting the Morris Dancers. We also had concerts there and as I had joined dancing classes (tap dancing) I took part. I also remember being a fairy or angel or something in one of the plays and had wings attached to the back of my dress and attached to my fingers with brass curtain rings. We also did Snow White one year. Our dancing kit was black shorts - made of blackout material which was not rationed - shirts made from old sheets and metal "taps" screwed to our normal shoes - black of course. Two of the older girls in the village, Joyce Starkey and Peggy Mussel, were very good dancers and singers and were the real stars of the show. Peggy's father was blind and they lived next door to the school. I used to like to go and talk to him and watch him making wicker baskets.
Once a year there was a Tent mission in the grounds of the Richardson Hut and for the "Joy Hours" for children I was allowed to play the portable organ - you had to pump the air yourself with your feet. It lasted a whole week with bible stories and choruses. There were services for Adults too. My mother went to the Salvation Army when we lived in London but there wasn't one close to us so Sunday School and Sunday services were at the Congregational Church, not far from the blacksmith. Now and again someone from the Salvation Army used to come to see us, probably from Bristol. I remember doing lots of colouring and listening to Bible Stories and the story of David Livingstone.
The King's Hall was next door to the church and they used to have film shows and dances and concerts there too. I remember the projector often used to break down. Otherwise to go to the cinema you had to go to Stroud or Wotton under Edge and the bus service was not that good. Sometimes we went to the Colston Hall in Bristol for a Pantomime - matinee - by train.
I used to enjoy the Lantern Slide lectures in the Congregationalchurch, usually about Missions overseas. It was there that I heard about leprosy for the first time and how people lost parts of limbs through this dreadful disease. The Leprosy Mission is still my top choice of Charity - they seem to achieve so much with so little money.
Another of our favourite walks took us through a farmer's orchard and when the fruit was ripe we used to help ourselves.. He was not a very nice man and no-one seemed to like him, so he was fair game !. We used to climb over the wall, get our fruit and then go over the wall on the other side, sit under a tree and share out what we had. We never took more than we could eat. Sometimes he saw us and chased us but couldn't catch us. I often went home with torn skirts from climbing - little girls didn't wear shorts or trousers then ! Of course I dare not tell my Mother I had been stealing fruit either !
I also had some rabbits in a hutch Dad made, in a shed beside the house - one rabbit at a time. I liked finding dandelions and pulling carrots for them and spent quite a lot of time cuddling them too. One day we had rabbit for dinner - I don't know why I was suspicious because we often had them. I ran out to the shed and my rabbit wasn't there. I cried and screamed that they had killed my rabbit and in the end no-one wanted to eat it. I got another rabbit and that was given away when we came back to London.
Now and again Dad was persuaded to come out for the day with us and I remember going to Gloucester by train once and to the Bon Marché, a big department store. I was very upset because I wanted an ice cream when we went to the Café but they didn't have any. Near Christmas I remember going to see the crib scene in Gloucester Cathedral, with a live lamb and a donkey in it.
Sometimes Mum and I went to Bristol by bus to visit an old lady who used to live in the village. I remember she had a black dog who was at least 16 years old and had no teeth. She lived near the Museum on College Green and I went there once or twice and watched a man writing in Braille.
We children also used to spend quite a lot of time in the railway cutting on the Bristol side of the station, collecting engine names and numbers - how I wish I had kept the lists !! By this time of course the war was well under way and some of the trains were hospital trains with red crosses on the sides of the carriages. The passengers often used to wave to us. It was a Midland and Great Western Line, to Gloucester and Birmingham. We were good friends with the signalman and he remembered me many years later when we visited Charfield again.
There was a small lake some distance away, I think it was an old mill-pond, where the older children went to swim during the summer but I was never allowed there.
Sunday school outings were fun too - a ride on a horse and cart to the local farm with games in the field and swings hung from the rafters of the barn and a big tea-party; with lots of animals to look at.
Harvest time was good too - we used to try to help with the hay making in June. The hay was put into heaps to dry and had to be turned with a pitchfork to dry. When it was dry it was collected with a tractor and trailer and taken to the farm. The farmer's used to have girls from the Land Army to help out.
A lot of the village women used to take in work from the local Pin Mills - putting hairclips on to cards and putting hairpins into packets. My friend Mary's mother did this and sometimes we used to help so that she could get on with something else. Clips were easy - you had a card with holes in and put 10 or 12 clips on each card. You were paid by the gross (144 packets). Hairpins had to be made into little bundles of 20 and wrapped in paper squares with an elastic band round - it look longer than clips. When it was wet we could work as long as we liked and Mrs. Clifford would give us 6d each - which was quite a lot then. We got quite quick at it and enjoyed it too. Mary had to help so if I did too we got more time to play ! Her Mum kept pigs and chickens and there was nearly always a side of bacon on the rafters in the kitchen - half the pig had to go to the Government, as far as I remember.
Another way we earned pocket money during the war was by collecting silver paper. German planes dropped strips of it to interfere with radar and we got ld per pound for it. We also got paid the same for a pound of rosehips or hawthorn berries (haws). They are very rich in Vitamin C and were used to make syrup.
Coal was in short supply also of course. Now and again we could go the station yard and collect a bag. My dolls pram came in handy ! We also had to collect wood where and when we could.
In the autumn we also collected blackberries by the bucket full to make jams and pies and then there were the hazelnuts which we just ate for the pleasure ! We collected conkers too (horse chestnuts) and bored holes through them, put one on a string and had a fine game trying to break our opponents conker.
There was also a cattle market in the Station yard and we loved to go and watch the animals being loaded and unloaded from the trains and lorries. We didn't think about the fate of the animals but it was nice to go down and stroke the thick wool in the sheep and pat the cows and admire the pigs. We spent ages watching unwilling animals being pushed around by red-faced furious farmers ! The Station yard was also the bus terminus. One single deck "Bristol" bus which ran from Bristol to Wotton. You could change at Wotton for Dursley and Stroud and we went there sometimes shopping. It was in the yard while sitting on the bus that Mum and I had our closest encounter with an enemy plane. It was a smallish one and came straight for us and we could see the rear gunner. He peppered the yard round the bus and then the plane went off. We were all terrified. On reflection he could have killed us all easily. No doubt he was on his way back from a raid somewhere and it was his idea of fun.
At about 5 years old I started piano lessons at Wotton so I had to take the bus straight from school, on ly own, and find ly way back. The teacher lived nearly at the bud-stop so it wasn't too difficult. She was very kind and patient and I loved going there - I can't remember her name. The bus conductors were very kind too and I soon got to know them all, especially a little man with a hump on his back who I specially liked. At home I had to practice every day for an hour and Mum made sure I did !
I had all the usual children's illnesses. I remember having measles. In the living room we had a leather Chesterfield settee, next to the fireplace and I recall Vi sitting there with me and watching the spots pop out. Chicken pox followed and I still have the scars. Some of my friends got Scarlet fever and had to go to the isolation hospital and the house had to be disinfected too. I remember watching from the safety of the compost heap next to the garden wall when Mary Clifford was taken off by ambulance - I was very scared that she wouldn't come back. Everything she took to the hospital had to be burnt .
Tortworth Court, now an Open Prison (still ?), was taken over by the US Army during the war and used as a prisoner of war camp too for a while. At weekends the Yanks came down to the village pubs and spent freely when they had money. Once their pay ran out they still came, hoping somebody would buy drinks for them until next pay day. Vi had lots of friends. Most of them were in the Army or the Navy or the Airforce and our house was usually full at weekends. We used to go to bed and leave her to play the piano an enjoy herself. Some of them were American and they all made a fuss of me and brought sweets and cakes and Coca Cola. If we met a Jeep when we were out for a walk there was usually a bottle of coke for me. They saw Mum didn't go short of anything and once even brought a blanket. Sometimes when I got up in the morning there would still be chaps sleeping on the floor downstairs and I had to step over them to get to the kitchen. I remember one had brought some iced cake which was in the larder and another one was coming that evening for tea so I was given 6d not to ask for any cake ! Mum enjoyed entertaining them and feeding them - after all she had two sons in the Forces too. One G.I. stayed the night and was upstairs in bed (Vi slept on the settee downstairs) when another arrived in a Jeep - he escaped through the bedroom window - the kitchen roof sloped nearly to the ground and was our exit in winter if the show had drifted over the front door ! Of course the soldiers made lots of promises of what they would do after the war but at least one kept his promise to me and sent me a beautiful doll, dressed in prink organdie and complete with kid shoes and silk socks - I still have her.
There was no street lighting in the village and you had to take a torch if you went out after dark. Windows had to be covered so that no light shone out and you could buy heavy black material without a ration book to make blackout curtains. We had wooden shutters too. Material and knitting wools were rationed as well as food. I learned to knit with stuff called "yarn" which was not rationed. Sometimes I had embroidery silks and used odd pieces of material to make handkerchiefs.
Our main contact with the outside world was the radio. I remember listening to Tommy Handley in "Itma" and "Monday Night at 8" which often coincided with my bath-time - a large galvanised bath with two handles, on the mat in front of the fire in winter and in the kitchen in summer. Often the hot water was used for two or three baths. Remember, there was no hot water tap ! We had a rain water butt in the garden and often used that water to wash or rinse hair - I remember it was lovely soft water and lathered up very easily with a bar of soap; we didn't have shampoos.
When there were air raids over Yate or Bristol Dad would take me outdoors to watch the "fairy lights" - I didn't realise at the time that they were the markers for the bombs and he was looking to see how far away they were. I got very good at recognising our planes for the enemy's too, from the sound of the engines. The nearest bomb to us fell in a field miles from houses. It made a large crater and killed a cow. Once a German plane came down close by and pilot landed safely by parachute. The local women took him into one of the houses for a cup of tea until the police arrive
There was one winter when we couldn't get out of the house very easily. Fortunately Mum kept a supply of tinned food so we didn't starve. Dad had to go out of the window on the landing, trudge round the house and dig out the front door. The snow was about 6ft deep so there was no question of going to school ! We children had a whale of a time building igloos as well as snowmen. Of course, the water-pump froze but our well seemed to keep OK. The milkman couldn't get round either, but I don't suppose it lasted very long. The milkman had a horse and cart and used to measure the milk into a jug - no bottles then, and I expect it was straight from the cows!
During the war there were "practices" when the ARP and Red Cross staged a mock raid and wanted to have casualties to practice on. Some of my friends went but I wasn't letting them practice on me - I watched sometimes from the bedroom window
My father died in March 1946 and was buried in the Cemetery behind the Congregational Church. He never did want to go back to London. Mum, on the contrary didn't want to stay so in May 1947 we moved back to London.
Valerie Sibley (formally Brazier)
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