A World Away
There was safety, adventure, community and mystery in the hills, fields woods and village in those days.
Tradition and history everywhere abounded, and we were part of a living fabric that stretched back countless centuries.
The cycle of the week, of the season and of the year and the festivals and rural routines therein marked the passage of our days.
It was a time of foods in season, of neighbourly bonds, of family gatherings and recognition of age old customs.
Our play was resourced not by electrical gadgets but by physical adventure and exploration, or historical enactment, and a sense of communion with Nature and the farming year.
Growing up in a village (on the edge of a small town between Bath and Bristol) in the valley beneath the southern final sweep of the Cotswold Hills provides a rich ground for humour, nostalgia, social commentary, social history, anecdote and much more.
More than half a century have passed since those unspoilt, carefree, traditional days of childhood (1950-1962) and it seems a whole world away. For many years I used to go back to my native area every week for a day. Much has changed but some things endure- usually as snippets among a newer material and mass produced landscape.
I am engaged in writing around five dozen stories of various aspects of life then, and add to each as and when memories pop up from deep in the recesses of my little grey cells. Not many have been completed. These are:
1. Warmley House.
2. The Secret of the Middle Payground.
3. Half Day Holy Days.
4. Old Tom and His Horse
5. Going Upstream.
6.Adventures of the Brook.
8. Joan ‘The Egg’
10. The Tump
Subjects in progress are:
Village Characters; Grimsbury Farm; Neptunes Statue;
The Strange Stone; Fog and Moon; Hay Harvest;
The School Play; Whitsun Parade; Mr. Wintle;
Colliery Castle; The Old Dram Road; Rodway Common;
Coronation Day Street Party; The Swimming Baths; The Horizon;
The Art Expedition. The Old Mine Shaft. The Village Pubs.
Dams and Dangerous Waters. Sally on the Barn. The Village. The Police House.
Four Winds Hill. Sunday Morning Walks. Hills and Horizon. Giant & Waterfall.
Sunday Tea. Mangotsfield Railway Station. The Pub on The Comon,. Sunday Picnics. The Hot Cross Bun Boys. Bottle of Pop At Uncle Jacks Pub. Penny Blackjacks et al. Upton Cheyney. The Clay Pits. Griffin Cattle Market. Golden Valley. Village Bakery. The Post Office Ladies. Mrs.Woolfords. Kingfishers and Tiddlers. The Village School. Syston Court.
It was a time before the advent of the internet, or grprs, or colour television. There were hardly any motor-cars: in our road there was one car and one motorcycle (with side car). There were no holidays abroad. No one had a telephone in the house. Televisions- well these were just coming into our part of society- and they were tiny things about a twelve inch screen, and monochrome of course (hence the expression "sit around the telly"). And broadcasting was only for a few short hours a day so was a special feature.
Lots of things were still delivered to your home- milk, bread, coal, eggs, and the greengrocer with his horse and cart. The farm was opposite and we helped with hay harvest and played in the fields and woods. There were streams to explore and ruined cottages to dare go in. Here were hiding places and dens.
The village 'bobby' kept us all in check- and he had his own police house and little police station. But the village itself was the real law and order. No one dared step out of line, you grew up knowing what was expected of you as a member of the community. There was no mamby-pamby pc idiocy if you got a clip round the ear from a stranger for misbehaviour: we accepted it, for we were brought up to know right from wrong and if we dared go to the boundary and overstep the mark well we had to accept the result.
It was also a time when there were Church of England village schools which had the advantage of having extra half day holidays (such as Ash Wednesday). There was a community centre at the bottom of the road and a swimming bath filled from a spring higher up the valley. And in Chapel Lane (some families in our road were 'chapel' others were 'church') there was a tiny bakery. The smell of fresh warm bread floods me with memories to this day.
In our road there were neat gardens front and back and all homes raised their own vegetables. Neighbours chatted over the fence or out on the front wall. If you came home from school and your mother had had to go out then you were called in to a neighbours house to have tea, children were not left in the house on their own. Strict care and supervision was the order of the day unlike these days when latch-key kids and and careless parenting seem to be acceptable..
There were very few amenities and almost no luxuries. Food (except those items which came in a can) was what was in season. Alcohol was usually only consumed at Christmas in moderation, except for a bottle of sherry kept for special occasions for guests. The menfolk would occasionally walk across the field or down to the village for one beer together before Sunday lunch at home. There were plenty of family walks and picnics. And the extended family met regularly- aunts, uncles cousins all got together on birthdays and Easter and Christmas and at least each month in between. And kids often had to wear 'hand me downs' for some items of clothing. And you had one set of 'best clothes' you only wore on Sunday or for special events and outings. And of course no washing-machine: mum did the weekly wash in ' the boiler' in the outhouse- a metal container on legs fired via a gas tube which when the water was hot enough mum would stir around the laundry with a big stick the put it through a hand-mangle before pegging out to dry. And down in the village there were still some cottages not on mains water: age five I recall seeing old ladies come out to fetch water in buckets from a fast bubbling spring in a stone enclosure at the side of the road.
Whatever you wanted you had to save up and buy. No instant credit- and debt or buying things on tick was regarded as a cardinal sin. School leaving age was 14 (later raised to 15). There was no breathilyser. Pubs closed at 10.30pm. There was Wednesday afternoon closing of shops. And all shops were closed on a Sunday, except the off licence where a few items of tinned things could be obtained. The 'corner shop' was flourishing and supermarkets had not yet arrived. The only place open after 5pm was the off-license (which opened at 7pm). But there was 'Hicksies' off-license up on Hill Street where you could buy groceries of an evening if you'd run out.
Mothers made their own curtiains, repaired shirts and trousers, and knitted cardigans and pullovers for all the family and made their own dresses- they had to, it was the only way to afford such items. And fathers husbanded a rich garden that kept their families supplied in most vegetables for a good part of the year.
There was no January 1st. or May 1st. Bank holiday. People went back to work on December 27th. or occasionally the 28th. And most people worked Saturday mornings. For a mother to go out to work was regarded as neglectful of the children. A good ordered home with a parent at home for the children was more important than consumer goods or a fancy holiday, or new furniture. The twin income home had not fully arrived.
Life was more ordered and reliable. I'm not sure if they were necessarily happier, for each generation accepts its lot I suppose. But they seemed happier for despite having "get by" and "make and mend" there was an intensity, creativity and excitement to almost all aspects of life. And standards were higher. Streets were safer. And the pace was more sedate and more human.
It was a time of safety, of family, of community, of Nature, of village and farm. It was a world away. But before I lapse into the inevitable grumpiness of the 'baby-boom' generation lamenting for the golden age, I'l stop! Read about the delights and dangers, magic and mystery of life in 1950's South Gloucestershire in my books.
I will say though that I feel blessed to have grown up in those times and regret that generations since have been impoverished by the passing of the humble riches that they contained