For­get Me Nots

This England - - Forget Me Nots - Devon Days

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

other variations.

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

ork­shire pud­ding.

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.

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