Aldbourne Heritage Centre

WP: I was christened Walter Palmer but most of my life I’ve been known as Wally. I’ve lived in the village all my life, 77 years. My father was born in the village, and my mother came from Hungerford, when she married my father in the early 20s. Naturally I’m a Dabchickand proud of it, although at one time we didn’t like being called one. When I was a boy we used to shout “Ramsbury bulldogs, Baydon Squaws, Aldbourne Dabchicks beat them all!”

My mother and father, when they first married, bought the shop, which is now the Co op, and we were all born there. There were 4 children in the family, 2 boys and 2 girls. My eldest sister went out to work in a library in Swindon and trained as a librarian, then she went on to school teaching, then she got married and helped in the shop selling drapery, children’s clothes etc. My brother who was much younger than the rest of us, did National Service and in 1961 emigrated to America. He’s been there ever since but manages to come back to the village every few years at least. He’s coming again next week.

I was involved in the business very much. My father was a baker, and my mother looked after the shop. When he first went there the oven was a wood oven, where you put the wood in the oven, set fire to it, and then raked it out, but he soon changed that for a coke fired steam oven. He must have been a very forward looking man because he used to make the dough by hand, but he soon bought a dough mixing machine, the first one in the area. He had a horse and cart, I understand, when he first started delivering the bread, but then he got a Model T Ford, so he was quite modern in his outlook. The first car I remember, he had a Ford 8 car, which were very popular, and cost about £100. He was very keen to drive us out on outings. My mother’s family lived in Reading at that time, 7 sisters and 2 brothers, and we used to go to Reading on a Sunday, he used to take us up there in the car, the only thing was he used to like to drive up there, but he didn’t like coming back because the sun was in his eyes all the way back from Reading. We went to the seaside quite often in the car in the summer, to Weston Super Mare or Lee on Solent. This was our life, the bakers was important to them, it was their life, and everything centred around it. When I was a boy I had to help in the bakehouse delivering the bread, and doing little things in the shop. I always remember the things we sold in the shop. We sold vinegar, we used to have it in a barrel. You used to have to tap the barrel, and I used to like to do those sort of jobs. There was very little variety sold in the shop. Many of the things we have today didn’t exist, there were no pet foods, we didn’t sell fruit and veg because most people had them in their garden, and you didn’t get foreign vegetables coming in in those days. There was just one sort of butter, one variety of everything, you didn’t have all the varieties you have today. We only had tomatoes in season, and other things in season. It’s amazing to think back of the things you couldn’t get then that you can now and take for granted.

Q: Were the things like sugar and butter weighed up in the shop?

WP: Butter and sugar were packed. A lot of things were loose, I remember soda was loose, and I think rice we had loose, quaker oats, and biscuits were in square tins lined along the front of the counter, with glass lids on the top. Then there were broken biscuits, which were very popular, everybody wanted broken biscuits because they were so cheap. My mother ran the shop and she had a drapery section where she sold drapery, all sorts, buckets, brushes, everything people wanted you sold, even rolls of lino! There were clothes, especially mens’ caps, there was quite a boxful of mens’ caps, they sold for about 1/6d each. There were shoes, I remember the shoe traveller coming to sell us shoes, he used to bring 2 big suitcases full of shoes for samples. There was material measured out and sold. We used to have a yard measure on the top of the counter.

Of course the families were connected with the Methodist Church in Aldbourne. We had 2 chapels in the village, the Primitive Methodist is West Street, and the Lottage Road Methodist. We went to Lottage Road Methodist. Interestingly, West Street was built in 1840, Lottage Road in 1844. It was amazing to think that 2 chapels, were very well supported in the village in those days. Sunday School Anniversary was the big event of the year in the chapel. All the grown ups were in the choir, whether they could sing or not, they were in the choir! They used to sit on the platform and the children in the front. The children had to recite, there was a little bit of singing, not a lot. Mr Tommy Barnes used to conduct it, and for about 6 weeks before the Anniversary the choir used to practice singing special hymns, and on the day it was so crowded that people used to sit on the bank opposite the chapel. I don’t know whether they could hear it or not, but they would sit there and watch, hearing the singing if not the recitations the children said. Other things went on in the chapel, perhaps the chapel was the social centre of the village, for us at least it was. There was Harvest Festival with the sale on the Monday night of the fruit and veg. The ladies used to make jelly and we used to call in ‘jelly night’ because the children were always given dishes of jelly. Then there was the Sunday School outing, of course that was the highlight. In my time it was always the seaside. My father used to encourage them to go to Weston Super Mare, he liked it there, and he was very good at finding out when the tide came in as it was no good going to Weston when the tide was out! We went there quite often. Once was a special one. The Sunday Schools from Lottage and West Street got together and went by train to Teignmouth, caught the train at Ogbourne St George as we did not have trains in the village. Very few people went on the train.

Several people in the village were local preachers in the chapel, at one time there were about 11 in Aldbourne in the Methodist Church. The two chapels came together officially in 1932 when the Methodist Union was agreed, so we were together slightly but we were still separate until the 60s when Lottage Road was in bad condition and numbers were going down, so we had united services for several years, and then we closed Lottage, used it for youth work and went to West Street for services. Eventually in Lottage the back wall of the chapel fell out. It was being used by the Guides and Scouts at that time. The Minister lived down Lottage and I rang him up one morning, and told him that the back wall of the chapel had fallen out, and he said “Hallelujah!” I don’t know whether this was before we all got together or not but that solved a lot of problems. We knew what to do then. We stayed in West Street for several years, but as it wasn’t very convenient, you couldn’t park cars outside, it was up steps to the chapel, and there wasn’t any facility for youth work or other services and the Sunday School, so Lottage chapel was knocked down, just leaving the Sunday School as a Youth Club, until eventually we built a new chapel in 1985 and it was opened in 1986, which we thought was a wonderful thing as it was not only more accessible and convenient but gave a place for the village to have events as well, it is a service to the village and has been going very well ever since!

In the 30s we had drought conditions in the village. Nobody had running water at that time, we had our own wells but most of those dried up so we had to go to the well down in village by the bus shelter which came later. At that well we used to have to pump water and take it home in buckets. Of course as my father had the bakery he needed a lot of water, so he had a tank on the back of the car which he used to fill up. As far as I know the well in the village never ran dry as the wells in Baydon, and they had to come down to Aldbourne for water. There is an old story about my great uncle who lived in the Yew Tree, and was farming there, and had a farm at Baydon. He used to take water as farmers were allowed to take water from the pumps for their animals for no charge, but anybody outside the village should pay 6d a barrel, which was what they called the water tank on the back of the cart. He was on the Parish Council and he refused to pay his 6d saying that he lived in the village. They said he should pay as he came in from Baydon. I think there was quite a bit of trouble and he had to resign from the Parish Council. It was very interesting, one of those things that happen, and people accepted it. They put water pipes in during the 30s and we were never short of water after that. I remember at home we had big tanks upon posts full of rainwater which was used in the house. People had pumps just outside their houses, sometimes a well would do 2 or 3 houses. We didn’t have gas in the village until after the war, I think about 1950, and the sewerage came in 1954. That was quite an unheaval, they dug very deep trenches and the roads were closed.

In the village there were a lot of shops, people did not need to go out of the village at all, although Barnes, where the coaches were, they had a carriers business. They used to go into Hungerford every day and they would bring anything back for people. On a Thursday they went to Newbury, which was quite an event, passengers could go on the carrier’s cart.   We had 5 bakers in the village when I started, now there are none at all. There were 2 in Ramsbury, but there was never any in Baydon. We used to go quite a long way round delivering bread, Marridge Hill, Lambourn Woodlands, Stock Close, Stock Lane, Snap, Warren and Upham, Baydon and Russley. We didn’t do all of them, but somebody did, sometimes 2 or 3 in the same area. I think ours was the most modern bakehouse and eventually I was the only one as the others gave up when nobody wanted to take them on. There were 4 petrol stations in the village and very few cars. Now there are so many cars and no petrol! There were 6 grocery shops in the village and the Post Office was up in The Green at that time. In the early times there were only really 2 builders in the village, Staceys and Jerrams, and they did quite a lot of building work, houses and repairs, then Jerrams went on mainly for maintenance building. When I left school, first of all, I did a year with Jerrams Builders as I didn’t like the baking business at that time, then when I was old enough to drive the car that was different, and I came back to the business then, as I didn’t like riding a bicycle up to Marridge Hill. There is one story about the baker in West Street. He used to deliver to Upham and his man went up there Christmas Eve delivering bread. When he got to one house they said, “We would like a lot of bread because we might have visitors.”  He gave them what he’d got but they wanted more so he came back to Aldbourne on his bicycle, made some more bread, took it up there, and got back into the village just as the clock was striking 12 o’clock on Christmas Eve. The day after Christmas he went up to Upham again with the bread, when he got to this lady’s house she said, “Oh, our visitors didn’t turn up so would you take these 4 loaves back and I’ll have 4 fresh ones.”

People did all their shopping in the village, although we had people come out from Swindon. The Co op never came to Aldbourne, which was surprising, although they came from Swindon and came out as far as Foxhill. We used to have a firm from Swindon come out with hardware and paraffin. They had a lorry which we called The Tin Bin with buckets and brushes etc hanging on the side of the van. They delivered anything you wanted and I think Morses came round then. They would send a rep round.

Many people just shopped in one shop, they didn’t go to all of them, and they were your customers. During the war when rationing was on you had customers register with you so they had to go to one shop. Also during the war we had some Italian prisoners in a camp the other side of Baydon. Mr Dick Stacey had several lorries and he would take them round to work on the different farms. They used to call in at our shop for bread and they used to have the sack that went on every lorry when they went to work. Then after the war Mr Stacey started up a building business doing houses. He built hundreds of houses in Marlborough, the whole of one estate.

We had The Foundry in Aldbourne. It wasn’t a foundry as such in my time but they used to cast iron there. It was Lovedays; outside where Stable House is, in The Square now, there are some railings which they cast which have the name, Lovedays, on them. Then afterwards it was agricultural engineers and machinery which was coming into the farms at that time. They had old machines outside which us boys used to play with, there was a chaff cutter there which had a handle. Some of us boys were there. I was putting grass in it, bent down and put my hand on the cogs, somebody turned the handle, I caught my finger and I’ve still got the effects of it to this day! I also lost the top of another finger, that was in the bakers in a machine. Then the foundry opened as an agricultural engineers and Mr McKeon took it over and changed it into a garage to repair cars. Then he moved it to West Street, and bought the Aldbourne Engineering Co which was a cycle shop in the early days. Harold Herring, he worked there for years, practically all his life he worked there. All sorts of bicycles were sold there. He was paid 1/6d a week. After Mr. Alsop, Mr. McKeon took it over. He used to advertise “No repair too large, too small, or impossible!”

We also had a Town Crier in the village. Mr Pele Barnes as Town Crier used to go around the village when there was anything on, stand on the corner and announce it. Us boys used to follow him around. He used to shout “Oyez, oyez,” then his message, and then, “Oyez, God save the King.”

Everyone had their own shop and their own chapel or church in those days, we didn’t mix a lot. It was a community, and everybody knew the Parish Council which was the council for the village, and everybody took an interest in it. I remember just after the war there was a parish council election. There were 25 candidates for 13 seats. Everybody wanted to be on the parish council in those days. Now they can’t always fill the council! It was not just Aldbourne, it was the same all over the country. I was on the parish council for a long time, the first time I didn’t get elected, but the second time I did, and I stayed on there for a good many years.

To go back to the baking, my father used to make the dough at 9 o’clock every evening. During the war it would be 9.30 pm as he always had to listen to the 9 o’clock news, and the man who lived next door did not have a wireless, so he used to come in and listen to the news, and then go and help, or just stand in the bakers while they made the dough. I used to make the dough at 9 o’clock as well, and when I was courting my wife I thought this was a silly time to have to come home and make the dough, so I found a recipe to make the dough in the morning, very fast, so I got up earlier and made it! The yeomans had, what was called, a bag of flour, there were 2 bags to a sack, 140 lbs, which made 108 loaves, so we would bake off 100 loaves at a time. We would make buns and doughnuts several days a week, and a lot of lardy cakes. I remember during the war you couldn’t get dried fruit, so they were plain lardy cakes! There were evacuees who lived in a house just outside the village, and they used to like these lardy cakes. They came back after the war and they wanted a lardy cake, but wherever they went they could only get them with fruit, which they said was not right!!

During the war we used to collect waste paper and aluminum. They said they made Spitfires out of the aluminum, but I’m not sure about that.   Miss Foster, who lived in Ivy Cottage, had a room at the back of the Blacksmiths where she did all the salvage, with  Mr Pop Morrison, who lived at The Malt House, and came from London. He was a smart man, who didn’t work, he had a club foot. He wore a bowler hat. The children would help collect it in trucks with him, and Miss Foster would sort it. She was a great one for that, would bag it up for the war effort.

When we had the shop we used to keep pigs and chickens, a bit of stale bread would feed them. Our pigs usually used to go off to the slaughterhouse at Harris of Calne, but occasionally one would be killed. ‘Pig sticker Humphries’ (Tommy Humphries) would come wearing a bowler hat, he had a stun gun, and would stun the pig, and shoot it in the forehead, cut his throat and the blood would run out into the garden. He said it would do it good! The pig was lifted up onto this stool and first burn off the bristles and then cut up. He used to go round the village, and if anybody wanted a pig killed, he would do it.