Forget Me Nots
IT was 1953. August 1953, to be precise, and my parents had decided to leave London and move down to Devon. I am sure they had good reasons and my mother’s indifferent health may have been a factor.
They had a lifelong love of Devon and no doubt had a desire to join other family members who were there already. I, at eighteen, had very mixed feelings at first, having just left school and having lived in Streatham nearly all my life.
My father had bought a four-bedroom house in Horrabridge, uite a large village on Dartmoor near Tavistock on the Whitchurch Road. Having worked for the Pearl Assurance Company all his working life, he now took over the job of district manager in Tavistock.
On that first day, we alighted at the saddler’s shop on the main Plymouth to Tavistock Road at the top of the steep hill which leads down to Horrabridge.
At the bottom of the hill is a lovely old 15th-century packhorse bridge over the Walkham river, with refuges in the bridge from the cows which often pass over it. The bridge was featured in the children’s television progamme “Bagpuss”.
The river proceeds downstream via a waterfall at this point and many were the times we were to see salmon leaping the falls. I was always rather amused to see a sign in the field by the river reading valuable reehold building site, as the river burst its banks here at least once a year, flooding the whole field.
Beyond the bridge was the local inn or pub, aptly named the Leaping Salmon. Here were some of the other local shops, the newsagent, the barbers and grocers.
Rarely in Streatham would you greet a passer-by unless you knew them, but here, nearly everyone you met would give a cheerful greeting. Here was a feeling of community.
There was still a deference among the ordinary people for the s uire, retired service o cers and other gentry.
Soon after our arrival we sensed we had attracted the attention of the gentry and my sister and I received an invitation to a Hunt Ball at the elverton Hotel.
I arrived in evening dress hired from Moss Bros, which was far too large and, as I no doubt looked as awkward as I felt, it probably did not take the mothers of debutante daughters long to discern that I was not a prospective son-in-law.
And so we gradually became accustomed to the change in life. We became used to the different ways of speaking the reference to young women as “maids”, for example, and a host of
National Service was looming but to my disappointment I was graded 3 and would not be called up.
Finding a job in Plymouth was very di cult at that time except for hotel staff. I eventually agreed to work on a voluntary basis for an ex-land-army lady on her farm in Sampford Spiney for a while. As tough as any man, she left me far behind on many occasions.
Although it was winter and some days very cold I have some pleasant memories of that time. Whether it was hedge paring, cleaning out the shippen or almost being swept off my feet by the yearlings crowding round for their feed, it was a good experience.
The s uire would often pass by with his dog as I pared the hedges and point to his trees in the distance, saying how fine they would be in a hundred years’ time. Not for him the uick buck, obviously.
Experiences with animals tended to be on three fronts. There were the farm animals, the cows and yearlings and a rather naughty sheepdog who had to be discouraged from hanging on to the cows’ tails. Outside the farm you were immediately on the rugged terrain of Dartmoor with its sheep and ponies.
On one occasion I came across a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, reminiscent of the substitute God provided for Isaac in the book of Genesis, a foreshadowing, of course, of a much greater substitute provided for us on the cross when esus died for our sins.
Biblical allusions abound when dealing with sheep.
At Christmas time I was given a goose in lieu of wages which all the family enjoyed.
Socially and recreationally there were the two pubs, the Leaping Salmon and the London Inn, and the churches. Walking and cycling were activities I very much enjoyed. Horrabridge then as, I believe, now, ran two senior teams for football and I turned out a couple of times for the 2nd eleven.
There was intense rivalry between Horrabridge and nearby Walkhampton and I heard that a referee had been thrown into the river after one game.
Some would retire to the Leaping Salmon after the match for a jar. There was also a cricket eleven. elverton, the village nearby where, incidentally, Angela Rippon used to live had a beautiful cricket ground by the church and I played a couple of games for them.
In winter the sheep gra ed there, but in summer it was transformed into a very good playing surface.
The village hall used to have a regular “hop” or dance, with the hall heated by an old coke boiler. A lot of the young people used to go to that. My sister and her new boyfriend would also go.
He was one of a large family and I would often join them on a Sunday evening and hear tales of Horrabridge past the things the older brother, away in the Navy, had got up to and the fights, fuelled by drink, that used to take place in the village during the war between the servicemen from different countries stationed nearby. During the bombing of Plymouth the family had been on the moor and seen the city burning.
The family’s mother would serve the most delicious giant Cornish pasty with plenty of meat and vegetables.
There was no cinema, but on one occasion my friend from St ude’s in Plymouth brought the Billy Graham film “Souls In Conflict” to the village hall.
The hall was packed. It seemed half the village had turned out to see it. I doubt if anything like that would happen today.
Providentially, about six months after we moved to Horrabridge, a young lady from a nearby army family went to be the Lady Worker at the church I had attended in London. When she returned she would bring news of close friends, and the family would host some very enjoyable Scottish dancing evenings. Oh, the young people today miss a lot of fun.
The railway still ran from Tavistock to Plymouth but I have to admit I would
normally get the 3 bus into Plymouth over the moors. The line over the moor from Princetown to Tavistock was open, too, and had I known that I would be working for British Railways Board soon after I returned to London I would have taken more interest.
I have seen video footage of it since and it was a rugged but beautiful line. The nearby prison was bleak, and would occasionally sound the horn for an escaped prisoner, usually when it was foggy.
elverton had been an RAF airfield and when I was there the airfield had not been ploughed up. It made a good surface for those learning to drive and my longsuffering father would give me lessons there. I passed on my third test.
I would occasionally accompany my father on his business calls to local farmers in Gunnislake, Calstock and other
places. Looking for too long at a signpost one day, as I drove his car in Cornwall, I hit a hedge and bent the running board.
In October, many would go to Tavistock for the Goose Fair where there was a middle-aged man in trousers and singlet who used to stand on a rostrum in a biting wind and try to sell a bottle of li uid which he claimed could be guaranteed to cure anything. Would that be allowed today I doubt it. Horrabridge had its fair share of local characters.
There was the always-cheerful butcher’s boy who used to go round the village on his bicycle delivering meat, and the old lady, nearly ninety, I should think, who lived in our road, who would often say, “Come in, boy, and have a cup of tea” as I passed by.
She would then ply me not only with tea but a huge helping of delicious
After working on the farm I decided to go to Plymouth College of Art where I spent three years. We were taught to draw, in contrast with many art colleges in recent years.
I did not follow a career in art but eventually returned to London to work for various departments of the British Railways Board. I would often return to Devon, however, an oasis from the frantic rush of London.
My sister married her boyfriend and there was always a warm welcome from them and their three children whenever I, and later my wife and children, returned to Devon.
I am very grateful for those years spent in Horrabridge and now I am retired, can return to my art at my leisure.
The wild beauty of Dartmoor from Hound Tor.