In The Country

In 1958, when I first came to Tanworth, there were no trees on the triangle of grass at Gilberts Green. On the right hand side, there was an old, deserted, but still attractive, couple-span Georgian farmhouse. You went down Quiney’s Hill to the stream, then up Vicarage Hill to the village. The houses in Bellfield had been built soon after the Second World War. Canon Lee lived in the old vicarage. The church Fete was held in the Glebe field. There were exciting things such as miniature train rides and air-rifle contests. Teas were served from the back of the vicarage.   The Village Hall was a little shabby. It had been built by Mr. Hoseason in memory of his late wife. There was no garden, just grass and trees. The Post Office was in a little shop at The Leamington, opposite the Hall, run by old Mrs Chattaway and her daughter-in-law, known locally as The Chats. The shop always reminded me of that shop in Alice Through the Looking Glass. The Ivy Stores was a little shop that sold ice cream and odds and ends.

Wakely Cottage was, then, four or five tiny cottages. Old Miss Wakelin, well into her nineties, lived in the one at the back. ‘The Bell’ was smaller. The landlord was Jack Hood, his wife, Madge. Madge’s parents lived in the cottage at the left-hand end. This is now part of the pub. ‘The Smoke’ came first, used mainly by visitors, next it was ‘The Outdoor’. The third door led to the Bar. This was the place to be. It was a centre of village life. Two coal fires were lit in cold weather. There was a dart board at the far end where local lads played other village teams. The winners were presented with a large jug of ale. On New Year’s Eve everyone crowded into the bar. Then it was outside to listen to the Church clock strike midnight and back inside for Auld Lang Syne and another drink. Jack had been a champion boxer. His Lonsdale belt hung over the bar. People from the world of boxing and television personalities often used to come to visit jack.

The sweetly named ‘Hollyhock Cottage’ used to be Simmons’ the Butcher’s with the slaughterhouse in the yard at the back. Jack Simmons ran the shop with his wife, the redoubtable Ivy. The meat was excellent. Beasts came for slaughter, usually on a Monday. Jack would often tell you the breed of animal and the name of the farm from which it had come. The butcher’s shop was often the first place for local ‘news’. Harry Brazier delivered orders twice a week.

Mrs. David, head of the village school, lived at The School House. The school, then, was just the old red brick building. There was no staff room, nor was there any hot water. The plug for the kettle was in Mrs. David’s classroom. A senior boy would shovel coke to feed the ‘Tortoise’ stoves in winter. School leaving age was fourteen.

The Garage was owned by Les Fitch. They sold cars and petrol as well as doing repairs. Three garages at the front were rented to villagers. Opposite was Hemmings’ Boot Shop where boots and leather goods were repaired. They also sold footwear, mostly boots and wellies. I can recall the smell of leather and dressings to this day.

Cobblers Cottage and Minstrel Cottage were Taylor’s shop which sold everything to do with grocery. The shop was run with a rod of iron by old Mr. Taylor who used to sit on a high stool at the left-hand window, writing in a ledger. He could have stepped straight out of a book by Charles Dickens. His two sons, Geoff and Sid, actually did most of the work, ‘helped’ by their sister Daisy. Over the years, several village ladies served at the counter. The butter came in a wooden tub. It was patted into shape with two wooden ’hands’. Sugar and dried fruit was weighed and put into cones of stiff, blue paper. Bacon was sliced on a fierce-looking machine with a large, circular knife.     Orders were delivered each week.

Then, it was down Doctor’s Hill and turn right into The Butts, so called because in the past, men practised archery there. There are marks on the Church wall said to have been made by archers sharpening their arrows. Turn right into Well Lane. ‘Cank’ was the home of John Jones, the dentist. His practice was in Henley but he had a small surgery at home where he attended to local teeth. Old Mr. Barratt ran the family plumbing business from The Old Workhouse.

The churchyard, then, was smaller, being bounded by a stone wall at the back.   There were no pews in the Church. The seats were rows of rather uncomfortable, wooden chairs. The pews were put in later by Mr. Onions of ‘Shenstone’, Bates Lane in memory of his wife. The choir was separated from the nave by a carved, wooden rood screen. There were no ‘facilities’, just a cold tap with no drain. The upper room had yet to be built from donations given by parishioners.

Few people owned cars so parking was no problem – but, then, most children walked to school.

Sylvia Stanton

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