The house where he lived
by Malcolm Low
Memories if a little clouded with time came flooding back as I walked up Honestone Street in Bideford where I grew up with my younger brother Gordon. The names and places mentioned in the following are from a memory which is fading. I apologise if I am incorrect in some instances, obviously there are other contemporaries and acquaintances from the dim and distant passed who are now practically forgotten by name, perhaps someone somewhere will help me to remember.
Number 7 Honestone Street with Osborns Models shop. My memories of living here go back to 1939 and possibly a little before. My earliest memory begins with my starting school at St Mary’s C of E Infants school when 4 years of age, the only teacher I can remember was a Miss Ellis.
(St Mary’s Church of England Infant School)
It was during WWII when we carried our Gas Masks to school and sheltering in the crypt of St Mary’s Church during the air raid warnings.
(I believe this may be the entrance to the Crypt)
As I grew up I can well remember making friends with other children living in the street. Junior schooling was at the junior School at the top of Honestone Street.
(Bideford Junior School, top of Honestone Street now the site of the Bideford and District Angling Club)
From 11 years of age I went to the Geneva Modern Secondary School the head master was Mr Down. On leaving education at 14; I went to work as a spare parts storeman in Warmingtons Garage, a Rootes Group Agency, for Hillman, Humber & Sunbeam Talbot cars in Bridgeland Street, moving on to work at Elliott’s Garage an Austin Agent and Rover Car Distributor, Kingsley Road as a spare parts storeman and then moving to Exeter after marriage to work as a stores supervisor in Pike’s Garages - Austin Distributors for the south west of England.
(Geneva Modern Secondary School)
I was in the choir at St. Mary’s Church from 11 years old to 25, when I joined the choir I pumped the air pump for the organ for a while as I learned to sing with the choir on probation for 3 months. Some of us joined because we could see the Edgehill College Girls on Sunday Mornings and the choir outings. It was one of the nicest and most enjoyable times I had experienced when growing up. Singing in the choir; often for 3 services on a Sunday, and sometimes at Weddings on a Saturday, Choir practice was Tuesday 4 evening for the boys and Friday evening for the full choir. I was paid 2s 6d. (12½p) every 3 months, and if I remember correctly 6d (2½p)for a wedding. There were times when we were not quite the angels one would have expected of us, too much information would put our angelic reputation at risk, but the Edgehill College girls were handed notes as we processed down the aisle to the choir stalls. Harvest Festivals were one of the highlights of the year, many a grape disappeared during the Sermon. I must stop at that or mine and other’s reputation’s will be jeopardised.
(St. Mary’s Church, Bideford)
The memories of number 7 Honestone Street have been re kindled with an opportunity to look over the house by Mr and Mrs Pearce who are renovating the house, which had been left in a very poor condition. Our family’s living room and kitchen were on the ground floor with a coal cupboard under the stairs. In the backyard, as we called it, there was a Glasshouse in which Charlie Brough the landlord, grew his Grapes from a large grapevine. At the other end of the yard there was an outhouse in which there was a brick built copper boiler; on Monday mornings before going to school I used to fill the boiler with water and light the fire under it ready for my Mother to boil the weeks washing. Also in the outhouse was a large wooden Mangle for squeezing the water out of the washing. In the corner of the outhouse was a lavatory with a wooden seat and I can remember cutting newspaper into squares; looping a piece of string through a hole made in the papers and hanging it on a nail on the lavatory wall. The lavatory was not a popular place on a cold winters day; never-the-less it was convenient. Under the stairs in the outhouse which went up to a loft where the door was padlocked there was a dark cupboard space in which we had a torch projector; we could slide a picture into it and project the image onto a white sheet pinned to the bottom of a stair tread to hang down. It was good until the battery ran out. On the outside wall opposite the scullery door there was an Orange box nailed to the wall the front of which had a wire mesh door, this was our food safe. If there were any meat of vegetable leftovers after Sunday lunch it would be placed in this Safe for eating on Monday, there were no Fridges in those days at least as far as we knew.
In the above picture, taken from the room which had been my parents bedroom, can be seen, in the distance a ladder where the stairs were as mentioned above; the padlocked door (green) can be seen in the wall. The stairs; the roof of the outhouse; the bricked copper boiler; the food safe; are no longer there but remnants of the outhouse rafters can be seen protruding from the wall of the house next door when standing in the area. By the look of it the glass house has long since gone. At times the back yard was a run way for Rats which we believe where interested in the grain we believed was stored in the brick building which can be seen at the far end of the photograph.
The photograph above is of me standing in the backyard, the window is my parents bedroom window which we looked out off earlier; I am standing at the end of the glass house with the grapevine looking toward the outhouse. The door on the left is the back entrance of Charlie Brough’s shop now Osborns Model shop. In the Scullery or better known as the kitchen area was a sink, a gas water heater and a gas cooker, there was a larder where most of the household requirements were stored. Our meals were served in the room next to the kitchen in which there was a large wooden table. When not used for meals I would play table tennis or blow football on it with my brother and our friends. The floor was flagstone which can be seen today. The room looks smaller than I remembered. The lounge or sitting room as we knew it seems smaller than I can remember; the fireplace is still there. I can remember the times when we had our bath in a tin bath tub in front of the fire, mum bringing hot kettles of water to top the water up. This was more in the wartime than later. There was a bathroom on the first floor but not used by us at the time, it was probably more convenient and economical to bath in front of a fire. The room seemed a lot larger than it really is. Other than amusing ourselves the only entertainment in the house was a radio which was worked by a recharge accumulator battery; it was Mr Pascoe the Shoe repairer a few doors down the street who recharged battery accumulators in the street at 6d (2½p) a time. The most frightening programme was ‘The Man in Black Stories’ often we would go to bed and hide under the bedclothes, especially the story of the mummified hand creeping and killing people when the box it was in was opened. Our imagination’s were heightened as we went to bed in the shadows of the gaslight in the passageway, and then, lying in bed we could hear mice running between the floor boards and the ceiling below; there must have been a marble under the floorboards because this was pushed by the mice as they ran along, we could hear it rolling along. Our bedrooms where on the first floor reached by a small and narrow passageway; off the passageway was the bathroom with a large copper boiler with lots of levers to move; first lever to light the ignition for the gas and levers to control the temperature and the flow of water, it would send out a load bang when ignited to boil the water. Next to this was a separate toilet and next to toilet was a narrow flight of stairs leading up to an attic room, it was in here that the Gill family boys Geoff, Reggy and myself built a Canoe; it was too big to get down the stairs so we unlocked the attic window and lowered it with a rope down to the back yard. My bedroom was next to these stairs. My brother’s bedroom was at the entrance end of the passageway in which there were French type windows, on one occasion he was jumping up and down on his bed using it as a trampoline and bounced toward the French window causing his foot to crash through the glass and cutting a large lump of flesh from the top of his foot, wrapped in sheeting he was carried up to the Bideford General Hospital for treatment.
During the war there were several people billeted (if that’s the right description) in the house, usually living in some of the rooms on the first floor, there was the Gill family (boys mentioned above) evacuees from London they lived there until a home was found for them in Silver Street. On the very top 2nd floor there was an elderly lady who we knew as Auntie Polly we did some of her shopping for her. When the Milkman, Baker and Butcher called she would lower a basket on a length of rope, with a note of what she wanted with the money, the transaction completed she would pull the basket up with its contents, quite a sight to behold.
This second floor flat had several different occupants over the time I lived there. After Auntie Polly who died in her bedroom there was a couple who had a Raven in a cage the man had a motor cycle with a sidecar in which he would take me to Abbotsham Cliffs to collect drift wood to bring back, when we would cut it with a large saw into firewood size pieces. The next occupants were a younger couple a Mr & Mrs Ellis. Mr Ellis made a cricket bat for my brother and myself. It was so heavy that we could hardly lift it, let alone swing it as we played cricket in the street at the top of the Pannier Market opposite Number 7. There were times when one of our cricketers had to climb the drain pipe onto the market roof to retrieve our ball. After the Ellis’s moved a Mrs Boddy lived in the top flat, my mother would visit her and play cards with her, Crib I believe.
When we saw the first floor front room as we called it, my wife Mary and I were surprised to sense that it was smaller than we remembered it.
My mother had a sewing machine from the local Glove factory in the room in front of the left hand window. As with many other women they earned their pennies by sewing up Gloves which had been cut at the factory and bought to their houses for completion. Her work area being in front of the window overlooking the road where Mum could look out of the window. The view was of Heard’s Coal Merchants premises and Mitchell’s Fish and Chip Shop on the corner opposite; where as children we used to sit on the steps eating two pennyworth of chips wrapped in a newspaper cone with lashings of salt and vinegar. And drinking Corona from a bottle, returning it when empty to get our 2d deposit back.
(Heard’s Coal Merchants can be seen at the end)
(Mitchell’s Fish & Chip Shop on the corner)
When the room was vacant my brother who was the Drum Major in the Bideford Town Band would practice with the processional Staff; on one occasion he threw it into the air and it stuck point first into the ceiling. I used to practice my Magic Act in front of the very large mirror over the mantle shelf; the mirror has been removed at some time, quite valuable I should imagine now. With the magic act I was the founder member of the Highlights Variety Concert Party with Peter Williams comedian; Maureen and Syliva Powe dancing and acrobatics; Eric Littlejohns ventriloquism and animal noises; and other guests, the room was used for rehearsals. The concert party travelled all over North Devon playing in country villages, tents on hay carts and other makeshift platforms, joining the party with refreshments afterwards; pasties; apple pies; home baked cakes and cider. My most vivid memory is of my 21st birthday party when there were over 30 of my friends in the room playing games and dancing the best we could, the food and refreshments on tables in the kitchen and sitting room.
Both the first and second floor levels were reached by a flight of stairs with landings and a beautiful wrought iron banister rail which we slide down; as a bet from the top to the bottom with one leg near to the stairs, when I saw the banisters I wondered what ever we had been doing and how dangerous it was.
In the middle of the road just below Number 7 there was a building (no longer there); it was premises owned by a Mr Tabscott. Mr Tabscott had a conveyor system for grading the various sizes of eggs and stamping them with the Lion logo; as we looked through the glass window we could see the machine working, it was fascinating to watch. As I understand it, and it may be just hearsay he also bought bricks from demolished buildings during the war and resold them to builders for rebuilding.
Along side and behind the Joiners Arms, on the corner next to Heards Coal Merchants, there was an alley way which led up to a hut in which the Bideford Boxing Club had its training facilities, I joined the club, and as it happened it was for one night only; I was knocked out in the ring, before that I had to run around the pannier market 3 times to prove I was reasonably fit. As far as I can remember the hut became a boy scouts hut; this was more civilised to join.
Bideford Carnivals were exiting occasions, my mother and most of the children from the neighbourhood would spend hours making paper flowers to decorate a lorry from Hopkins Hauliers. The lorry would be decorated for Hiawatha or a Rose Garden, or Robin Hood and his merry men. Mum also acted as Father Christmas in the town one year; and if I remember correctly she was accompanied by a music man with a live dancing monkey. I rode a Penny farthing bicycle along the Quay during one of the Carnivals. Honestone Street was a very busy street with Beers Grocers shop; Kingsbury Tobacco and newsagents next to the Portobello Inn; Pascoe Shoe Repairs; Mitchell’s Fish & Chip shop; the New Inn; the Ring of Bells Public House; Friendship’s Bakery and Restaurant which used to be the British Restaurant during the war; the Pannier Market and the Cattle Market. All of which were busy on Tuesdays and Saturdays when the Markets opened up for business. And there was the famous Hocking’s Ice Cream van outside the Pannier Market with their wafer and cornet ice creams. The whole area was vibrant with Farmers and their families; Cattlemen; and stall holders in the market selling their farm produce. On the market days cattle; cows and sheep were being driven on foot up the street and herded into the cattle market. At one time I was trapped in our entrance hallway by a cow which pinned me against our inner door no damage done, but was quite frightening for a child.
On a financial note my pocket money was 6d (2½) a week and I had to work hard for that, and by doing odd jobs this could increase slightly. When I could work after school at 4 o’clock I would have tea and everyday I would scrub the floors and mats for Arnold’s the Chemists in Allhalland Street and for their shop on the Quay. Saturdays Mornings I worked for Ashplant’s Dairy, Mill Street delivering milk with Mrs Ashplant around Bideford, Northam and Westward Ho coming back to tea and cake and washing the bottles and cleaning up afterward. When I started to work for Warmingtons Garage; I earned £1. 10s.0d. (150p) a week before tax and national insurance deductions, this was more than the other three part time jobs combined, I thought I was rich!!
Mary and I were delighted to see how the owners are tastefully renovating and redecorating the whole house. Number 7 has needed some love and care ever since and probably before I lived in it. It will be a great achievement when finished and we wish them both every happiness and a success with their business venture.