"Shadows on the wall"
Shadows on the wall is a record of some of my early years and memories of my world of work.
The PO Telephones/BT & Business Link years.
"A thumbnail sketch of an ordinary life in the 20th century"
It is written for the interest and possible amusement of my readers.
This project is subject to ongoing additions and changes.
Tollgate cottage 1942-45
Although I was born in a Minehead nursing home my formative years were spent in Tollgate Cottage Dunster where my memories are mainly of two rooms and the outside toilet. The kitchen was on the left of the front door and accessed from the hall up two or three stone steps. The kitchen door had a finger latch and opened into the kitchen. In the right hand corner was the copper with an open fire under it which was lit to do the weeks laundry. Along the right hand wall was a long black iron range again with a open fire that heated the integral oven to the left hand end. On the wall facing the door was the kitchen table with a pendulum clock on the wall. The single window faced the road and overlooked the mill stream, fields and deer park beyond. On the other wall behind the door was a kitchen sink with the only water tap. There was no hot running water or electricity and lighting was by paraffin lamps and candles. To the right of the table was a small folding card table with a Primus stove perched in the centre. I can still see the magic of the burning meths in the heating trough and hear the roar as the paraffin jet ignited after furious pumping and pricking of the jet. In this potential inferno I learnt to walk and play.
The room to the right of the front door and accessed from the hall is the parlour and it has the pillar for the Tollgate in its road wall. On the opposite wall was a brick built fireplace with lots of horse brasses mounted on nails. On boxing days in future years this is where we played cards and darts and I had my first taste of home brew beer from a bottle with a screw stopper and broken paper seal. The use of logs on the fire caused a lot of soot to accumulate in the chimney thoat and this soot would burn like a galaxy of stars when a spark landed on them -Ahh the magic of a 40s childhood!
On the right hand wall was a harmonium (miniature organ) with bellows that were pumped with your feet. To the right of this organ was a small window looking up the garden steps. Below this window was the wireless with large accumulator batteries which had to be taken to the local garage to be charged. To use the outside toilet meant going out the front door turning left down the road to the end of the cottage, through a small wooden gate and along the side of the cottage beside a high stone wall which retained the garden. This wall had holes in the stone work for drainage. This is where there was a overpowering smell of rotting oak leaves and wet moss. The toilet itself was on the back of the cottage and was a normal WC connected to mains drainage. But it was in this small room that "they" lived,spiders of all shapes and sizes. To my young eyes every hole concealed them.. I can remember/imagine their eyes catching the flickering light. The spindly ones shook and trembled on their fine webs.
(My Godfather who worked hauling timber in Crown Estate woodlands) the horses were stabled at Dunster Castle in the stables now used as a retail shop by the NT
Photo taken in the 1950s
Ron as "Blue" sixer.
My introduction to scouting was delayed until I was 10 years old.
I joined a school cub pack when I was at St Teresa's School (School reunion pictures). The pack was founded by a Scout master named Mr Parkinson and together with David Catford I was chosen as one of the two first sixers. Mine was the blue six and the other as far as I remember was red six. We met in the school after it finished at about 16;00 and my main recollections were of wide games played in the woods at Hopcott. Here the two sixes would play cordon games with "lives" made of cotton wool. These games always seemed to be played on warm early summer evenings around the quarry where the setting sun warmed the west facing slope covered in holly trees. I suppose the smell of warm damp rich loam when one is stalking friends in a completely safe environment is something not many children today can experience. I have no recollection of walking to and from the location but that was the only method as it was only about 0.75 of a mile from the school.
I can remember learning some knots and the law and promise but not much about other badge work. The uniform was a very rough green wool jersey, a cap with two silver stars that were an indication that as a wolf cub you had passed tests of scouting knowledge and had "two eyes open". Grey shorts were worn with socks with green flashes on the elastic garter. The sixers had two yellow tapes around one arm above the elbow At the time I think I was completely unaware of the existence of any other cubs or scouts. I do remember a brass membership badge of a wolfs head that was worn in the lapel of the school blazer which hinted of a larger association.
I joined 3rd Minehead Scouts at the age of 11 at a time when the large scout hats were still part of the uniform. Our scout hut was an ex-military Nissen hut on a small triangulat plot of land to the rear of the St Johns premises in North Road, Minehead.
Nissen hut being erected about 1948?
Facing the hut was a seperate building part of which was used by Minehead Town Silver Band and a partly deralict western end where we kept the green painted trek cart. We pulled this by hand with our camping gear to Selwothy one Easter to camp in the field to the right of the extension car park near the Church. In this field I remember lay in our patrol tent in the morning and seeing Dunkery Beacon framed in the door. These patrol tents were ex-army 14 footers (14 foot square with large red painted haxangonal poles). They were strong enough to run up the sides of the canvas sit on the ridge pole and slide down the other side!
The trek cart was also used to collect large amounts of wood from North Hill which was cut and split and delivered to the Alms houses close to Christmas. Dennis Webber was the ASM at the time and the hard work of wood collection was always finished with an equally hard "fir cone fight" which meant throwing the fir cones as hard as possible at your opponents - this was long before the days of activity "risk assessment". Troop nights always included a game of "British bulldog" which was equally physical with few holds barred.
These were happy days with camping and weekly meeting on a Wednesday evening. Every year there was a 10 Day Summer Camp, my first was at Stoke Gabriel on the River Dart and another at Lodders Court near Bridport and Chagford.
Chagford is a small village on the edge of Dartmoor. Yeo farm (Farmer Mr Perryman) is about 2 miles outside of the village and I worked out that over the years I have spent about 30 nights of scout camping at this site. We camped in the fields one field beyond the farm where they sloped gently down to the river that lay in the wooded valley. In the river were massive moss covered boulders and I can remember laying on my stomach on one of them and feeling the soft moss as I ducked my head into the very cold water. The river and its valley offered shade and the pleasant smell of pine, wet soil and rotting vegetation overlaid with the smells of new green growth.
I once camped at the farm one Easter with two blankets and the milk froze solid in the bottle which finished up with a column of frozen milk sticking out the neck of the bottle. The next night we slept in the farmers barn. Kestor rock was the target of several midnight hikes and one summer camp when I was ASL with the 48th Taunton troop with Cliff Broom as SL we took the boys up to the rock. There was a thin mist on the moor and I decided that it may make a good story to tell the boys the story of the "Hound of the Baskervilles". The laugh was on me when just as I was getting to the scary bit my touch picked up the glowing eyes of the "Hound" which turned out to have a fleece rather than a hairy coat.
It may be that youth picks up things that as we get older we ignore. We kept our camping equipment for 3rd Minehead scouts in a cellar under the old school on North Hill. This small store of three interconnecting rooms with an earth floor ensured that all the equipment had a permeating smell of damp hession, sisal ropes, slightly damp canvas, paraffin and a mild smell of urine splashes on the rolled hessian of the latrine shelter. All this was overlain with an atmosphere of condensed wood smoke and dried grass.
If any one of a 1000 smells of our life could have been bottled we would indeed have a time machine of the mind. Think of crushed summer grass, wood smoke, bacon frying, the inside of an old motor coach, a fresh cow pat, wet daps, a dewy morning, pine sap, stripped holly or hazel bark, a damp ground sheet, wet canvas, dry ball of sisal string and wet wool socks after a days walking. Open up an old wooden first aid box and there was a hint of old paint, wood, broken aspirin, antiseptic, rolled bandages and cardboard.
I took this photo of our patrol at a Somerset County Jamboree at Radstock or Bath 1953?
L-R Alistair Thorne (pausing with the plate after fanning the fire), Pop Dyer, ?, Peter Clayton, Mike Thorne.
In the near back ground left is the chopping area and near right the camp kitchen with plates and teacloths drying in the light drizzle! At the far right is the hesian screen of the latrines which consisted of a long slit trench which required perfect aim both front and back and extreme care not to fall in either before, during or after! We travelled from Minehead to Bath/Radstock in the back of Prescotts open lorry with a canvas top sitting on all our camping equipment and coping with travel sickness using our metal drinking water buckets. We had to stop on the hill out of Wells as the radiator boiled and had to be topped up!
Happy days? Yes they were.
Somerset Scout Jamboree Torweston Farm Williton 1954
Google earth 51° 9'33.97"N 3°17'43.79"W
Back Row L-R Paddy Woolgrove, ?, Chris Murphey, Geoff Larcombe, Roger Evans, Brian Westcott, Mike Thorne, Peter Yeandle
Front Row L-R Ron Blundell, "Buck" Wright ? spelling of surname, Colin Pring
No fancy kit or clothing in those days!
Tents were ex-British army "14 footers" with no fly sheets, store tents were ex-US army "pup" tents.
In 1957 I attended the Jubilee World Jamboree at Sutton Coldfield
Names of Somerset Contingent to 1957 Jubilee Jamboree Troop Number 83
3rd Minehead Senior Scouts "Wingate Patrol" at Somerset County Jamboree Radstock 1956?
Back row: Colin Pring, Chris Callaway, Roger Evans
"Spud" Murphey, Paddy Woolgrove
French Trip to Brittany 1959
Back row: Mike Thorne, Peter Hensley, Alistair Thorne,?, Guy Pedrick, Mike Carter, Robin Strong, Ron Blundell
Middle row: ?, Peter Broom,?, Mike Blelamy, John Branchflower, ?, John Moreman
Front row: William (Bill) Spencer, Peter Yeandle, Derek Poole
Back row: Peter Hensley, ?, Guy Pedrick, Peter Yeandle
Front row: Robin Strong, Mike Cater, Derek Poole, Ron Blundell
The PO Telephones/BT & Business Link years.
Click the link above for some of my memories of working in the worlds of Telecommunications and business advice.