Bit of a long post for Day 44 because I spent Sunday morning in my home village on a 2-hour wander down memory lane. A lot has changed in 30 years – the places I played as a kid, the places I went to school, the places we bought our food - are all gone – unless you know where to look and what you’re looking at.
So – where to start ? Outside my childhood home seems obvious – with a view down Fry’s Well to the bridge that carried the Somerset and Dorset railway over the road on the climb from Radstock to Shepton Mallet. I have a childhood memory of watching through the letter box as the workmen removed the line after Beeching’s axe fell in the mid-Sixties. This is almost exactly the view I would have had except that the walled area on the left was wasteland rather than someone’s garden:
My first trip to infant school went under the bridge, and down Bowden Hill past the original of this little Catholic church. Of course, we went on foot – after all it was only a mile or so…
Further down the hill on the left was Mrs Hoare’s shop, where we did most of our shopping. Sadly I didn’t take a photo of it, preferring this house opposite instead, which is typical of the substantial houses found throughout the village. I never did know who lived there.
Further down was the post-office in Reed House where we used to buy sherbert dabs and 4-a-penny chews.
In this picture the actual post office was behind the two whited-out windows on the left. All that remains – as far as I can tell – is the post box in the left hand wall. As I took this photo I was standing on a hidden bridge which carries the road over the River Somer. Behind and two the right of Reed House the river flows along a small valley, the home of a pig farm and a series of watercress beds when I was a small – and not so small – boy.
We’re going to leave the trip to school and visit the valley now. The aforementioned pig-farm now looks like this – an improvement I suspect:
However – this (below) is where I spent many happy hours catching freshwater shrimp and diving beetles and was once a productive watercress bed – frankly I think the pig farm would be more attractive – at least it would be productive.
Up out of the valley by the footpath I used to use underneath the remains of the railway station and out past The Somerset Wagon – a rather pleasant pub on the main road through the village.
The footpath runs past the car in the background. The window at the top left used to open on a restaurant where I took my wife (then my girlfriend) for our first meal.
Turn left at the Co-op – still there and still looking like a Co-op – you don’t need a picture – you know what it’s going to look like. At the top of Baker’s Lane used to be Shepherds timber yard – probably the villages largest employer when the pit closed. Now its an estate of executive homes with street names like Sawyer’s Close.
This one is built pretty much on the site of the huge crane that was used to shift logs around the yard. I understand most of the logs ended up as coffin boards. Certainly many local homes were heated by the scrap - it was a regular sight to see the workers walking their bikes home with a huge sack of logs balanced over the frame.
Further down the lane the road crossed over the railway cutting – now largely filled in – and past my grandparents house – the middle of these three. I have a picture of my Mum on the doorstep of this house with her grandmother.
Immediately opposite was the butchers shop. (On the left below). Mr Strawbridge made the best faggots I’ve ever eaten – every other one is but a pale imitation. One of the Strawbridges – David – is a local historian of some repute.
Down past the butchers and turn right at Epworth House – previously the Methodist Church where I attended Sunday school until about the age of 10. It had a large hall out the back where the local children held their birthday parties. Hmmm! Must also mention that Marion and I got married there in 1981….
Now it’s back along Fry’s Well under the railway bridge to my car parked outside my childhood home
Even the house looks different now – for a start its been modernised and had an extra window added above the door.I’d be interested to know how that was achieved as it was a solid wall/chimney several (make that many) feet thick. The house was more than 400 years old, and had been a butchers on a previous occasion – the pig sties were still visible in the garden, and the floor carried stains from the salt pork which still got moist in humid weather. The small window to the right of the door was once a post box (or so I was told) and the big downstairs window on the left had once been the entrance to a shop.
The two houses were once a single building – the terrace on the left being added at a later date. Immediately opposite is the well which gave the street its name – Fry’s Well. It has never dried up – even in the longest droughts, and was a source of drinking water for miners on their way to the pit until it was it was categorised as not fit for drinking.
To the right of the terrace was a lane known locally as The Drang – a dialect word for a narrow path. At some stage it ran alongside a small terrace – they were tumble down even when I was a small child and were eventually knocked down – presumably for safety reasons. The wasteland has never been cleared and looks pretty much as it was when I left home:
Across the old stone stile at the top of the drang and you’re back on the main road through the village, and another view that is essentially unchanged for at least 40 years – well, OK, the cars are more modern – but that’s it really.
The village shop where I used to walk most evenings to buy whatever Mum decided to cook us for tea is on the left just as the road disappears – think it’s a hairdresser’s now. I’ve often wondered how many hairdressers society actually needs – but that may be because I’m somewhat balding.
In the opposite direction is the ‘new’ village hall where we had our wedding reception,
and beyond that is what remains of Carter’s Wood where we used to collect conkers in the autumn.
Of course, it didn’t have an expensive driveway through the middle of it then – it was full of wild garlic. Lord alone knows what we smelled like after we’d finished playing there in early summer.
And finally back down the hill to the car again. The Redan Inn (on the right) has this view on its wall – only 40 years older – and my step-mum has the same view with a horse and carriage parked where the bottom car is now. At least some things don’t ever appear to change
And that’s it really – if you stuck with my maudlin’ this far I admire your constitution. Normal service will be resumed at the next entry.