[Source : http://www.cyclecamp.co.uk/history2.html ]
My Villages (Caldecote, Hardwick and a few others) [by Ellis Rowell]
My grandfather (Abraham Rowell) moved from Manea to Caldecote in 1921 when he bought a bungalow on West Drive, named "The Retreat". It was built by a man who had returned from the Falkland Isles, and built it in the way that houses were built there. It was timber framed and clad with galvanised corrugated steel sheets, both on the walls and roof. It was lined with match boarding. Highfields Farm was sold after the 1914/18 war to an estate agent named Walter Game of Burwell. He proceeded to split it up into plots, it was not 'planned' but anyone who required a plot could mark out their plot from the available land to the size and shape they wanted. This has since caused many problems regarding boundaries. The "New Estate" area at Hardwick had the same problems as it was sold in the same way.
My father (Ellis Rowell) and mother (Rosa Lucas) met in the 1920's when my father was working for George Askew of Buckhurst Hill who traded in hay and straw. It was the practice with that firm for its workers to find farmers who had hay and straw to sell, if the deal went through then the 'finder' got a commission. My father was travelling the South Essex area by rail when he met my mother, who lived at Walthamstow, in Essex. My maternal grandfather worked for J J Colman of Norwich and was foreman at their London docks. He originated from Tingewick in Buckinghamshire, where the family had lived since 1068. As the Lucas of that time was one of the lesser mortals listed, there is no clue as to where he was before the Norman conquest. The term Norman was given to those descendants of the Norsemen who settled in northern France.
Highfields, Caldecote was nicknamed "Tin Town" because of the predominance of corrugated steel. Other materials used were tarred felt on plywood or matchboard for roofing, and weatherboard (traditional in Essex) and asbestos sheeting on timber frame for walls. It must be remembered that transport was a problem at that time so the heavier materials were out of the reach of most people. This area of Caldecote and Hardwick was the answer to housing the large number of people returning from the services after the war as the government were not prepared to accept any responsibility for the men who were 'fortunate' not to be killed. There were many other places around the country like these two villages.
I (Ellis Rowell Jnr. Known as Peter) was born in March, Isle of Ely (a "Fen Tiger"), in March 1929 in the March Nursing Home (I was the 100th baby) which has now been changed to an old peoples home (ready for me to go back there?). My father was working on the railway at the Whitemoor Marshalling Yards, these were modelled on the marshalling yards at Ham in Germany which work by pushing the trucks uphill then marshalling them as they run down (a green project of the 19th century?). My parents moved to Caldecote when I was a fortnight old. My first memory is of being in our garden in Caldecote when a giant (to me) black and white pig wandered in. Black and white sow's do tend to be rather large, and to a toddler of around two, they seem more like an elephant. The cottage in which we lived is on Main Street between Clare Farm and the Fox public house. It is the farther one of the pair next to the Fox, which is no longer a public house and is called Fox Quarry.
The main street was an unmade road in 1921, but was made up by the 1930's. West Road was called the Estate Road before the war and was an unmade grass covered road, as was East Drive which did not have a name. The Bridle Path was unmade, it belonged to the farmers who owned the fields which it went through. The official width was 9 feet and no vehicular traffic was allowed, not even bicycles. The exception to this was that the farmers could take vehicles on it to work the land. The original purpose of a bridle path was for the farmers to ride to market on horseback, hence the name bridlepath. The land was still owned by the farmers and there only existed a "right of way" for foot traffic. The Bourn Drift was another unmade road but was a public right of way including vehicles but as it was always deeply rutted, few people used it. There was no advantage in distance if you were going to Bourn village, but you might gain if going to Caxton. A new housing estate is now (2000) being built on the field next to the Drift, it will be interesting to see if the Drift gets made up and more houses are built along there.
I can remember Main Street being re-surfaced by a gang of men with a horse drawn tar boiler, steamroller and a horse drawn water cart. Mr Stevens, father of Robert who still lives in the village, supplied horses for this work. The road was swept to clear any dirt and rubbish, then the tar boiler was pulled along (it had two brooms with hoses attached) and the hot tar was swept over the surface. Two men then scattered granite chips on the tar with shovels and the steamroller rolled the chips down tight. When it had cooled the road was swept to remove loose chips, these being gathered up and used again. Most village roads are still like this today although they are now regularly carrying 40 tonne articulated lorries and have no real foundation.
A roadman was employed in most villages and it was his job to sweep the road and stop the grass and weeds encroaching on the road and footpath. He also had to maintain the drainage
which consisted of shallow trenches (about 4 - 6 inches deep) dug in the grass verges. During the summer he had to cut the grass verge with a scythe or sometimes it was done with an Allen Autoscythe which was a hand steered cutter bar on two wheels driven by a small petrol engine.
All communities have to have supplies and Highfields was no different. There were two shops before the war, one was kept by Mr & Mrs Sparkes and was a general store, the other was kept by Mrs Osborne and had a more limited range. Osborne's shop closed either before or around the beginning of the war. The Post Office has moved around from time to time, it was kept for many years by Mrs May Harrup in the small farmhouse were the telephone box is sited. This has now gone and a housing estate is being built. Later it was kept by Miss Warne who lived opposite where the school is now.
The nearest public house was the Fox which was kept by Mrs Badcock. Her husband, Mr Joe Badcock (a small farmer) was also bell ringer at the Church along with Mr Sam Farrington. The Church (St Michael and all Angels) had three bells. After Mr Farrington died, Mr Badcock carried on alone ringing all three bells. One rope in each hand and one longer with a loop in it which he put his foot into in order to ring the bell. My maternal Grandfather (George Bernel Lucas) was a campanologist at St. Saviours, Walthamstow, Essex. When he visited us, he liked to go into Cambridge and join the ringers at Great St. Mary's Church. The first time he went to Cambridge with my mother, she was shopping and realised that he was no longer with her. She searched around for him and hearing the bells ringing and went to Great St Mary's, where she found him in with the ringers. When they are "change" ringing it can go on for hours, usually until someone makes a mistake.
Coal at this time was supplied from Toft and Kingston Siding which was on the south side of the road to Toft where the bridge for the Cambridge to Bedford railway line is. The nearest station was Old North Road which was on the Royston to Godmanchester road. The railways did not play a very important part in our life, directly.
Most travel was by bus, and the local service was provided by Whippet Coaches of Hilton, Hunts. They ran buses on Wednesdays and Saturdays to Cambridge (service 2), starting from Cambridge (Merton Arms Yard) they went along the Madingley/St Neots road to Hardwick, Toft, Caldecote and back to Cambridge. They also ran a bus Cambridge to St Ives via Papworth (service 1) with a connecting service from Papworth to Huntingdon. The other regular service along the main road was the Eastern National, now Stagecoach Coachlinks, Cambridge to Bedford via St Neots. There were two other services one from the village run by Mr Tabony and one along the main road by Mr Brand of Elsworth. These were only once a week services usually on a Saturday. Mr Brand ran a return service from Elsworth to Knapwell then to Cambridge on the St Neots Road in the morning, then in the afternoon he went from Elsworth to Boxworth and then to Cambridge on the Huntingdon Road.
Bus companies were not free to decide where and when they wished to run before 1980, the Traffic Commissioners granted a licence to run a service and would only allow a new service if it was not detrimental to an existing service and if there were enough demand for it. They also made sure that the buses ran on time and if anyone made a complaint against company, driver or conductor, they would investigate it.
Before the war the Whippet buses were single decked and had a roof rack for luggage. The conductor, Mr Mather, would climb up the fold-up steps at the back of the bus, the
passengers would then hand their shopping bags etc. up to him and he would pack them on the roof (the rack was built in and had solid sides). When the bus reached a stop (which was anywhere that a passenger wanted picking up or setting down) Mr Mather would climb up to the rack and hand down the bags.
Most villages had a carrier service, this was either by a resident carrier or by a carrier from another village close by. In Highfields, Mr Harry Tabony ran the carrier service with a 1920's van, about the size of a modern Ford transit. He was probably an ex-cavalry man, as although he drove a van he always dressed in flat cap, tweed jacket, riding breeches and highly polished buskins and boots. He also had a moustache with the ends waxed and twisted into two small points.
Supplies were also brought in by roundsmen, these were tradesmen who travelled round the villages with a motor van (before the 1914 war they would have had a horse and cart). The roundsmen supplying Highfields were, Bakers:- White's of Eversden, Hagger's of Bourn, Smith's of Oakington. Butchers were T Knibbs of Elsworth and Oliver's of Bourn. Then there were the general grocers who also did butchery and bakery, these were Throssell's of Elsworth and Huddlestone's of Bourn and Eversden. Most had tobacco and alcohol licences. Household goods, which included scrubbing brushes, cleaning materials, galvanised baths and buckets, paraffin oil, stoves and lamps. Anything which they did not normally carry, special stoves or lamps, lavatory buckets, ironmongery etc. could be ordered and would be brought on the next round. These suppliers were W C Brown (Somerlite) of Sturton Street Cambridge, and a firm named Norman which I believe was from Swavesey. There were also firms like Eaden Lilley, Macintosh, Peaks and Robert Sayle etc. who delivered items purchased at their stores in Cambridge.
The Bungalow that my father built in the early 1930's was typical of many, It consisted of a timber frame of 2"x 2" (50x50mm) sawn timber, the exterior cladding was 6" weather boarding with plywood lining. To preserve the timber it was creosoted, doors and windowframes were painted. The roof was corrugated sheet steel (galvanised) which was painted with red oxide paint. The bungalow originally had three rooms, they were a living room and two bedrooms. The floors were of 1" tongue & groove flooring. The joists were laid on concrete blocks which had been dug into the ground, down into the clay. The floors were about 9" above the ground in order that cats could get underneath to prevent rats from living under them. A choice had to be made between preventing rats and dampness or having floors without ventilation which would make them warmer. One bungalow at the back of the wood on the east side of Main Street was about three feet off the ground. My father added a fourth room as a kitchen at a later date. The living room had a large (22" grate) open fire with a brick chimney stack. Cooking was done on paraffin stoves, a two pint pressure stove was used for quick cooking such as frying, boiling vegetables etc., whilst slower cooking such as roasting, slow stewing etc. was done on a Valor Perfection cooker which had a large oven which sat on the main frame of the stove. There was no main drainage so all washing water was used for watering the crops. Toilet facilities were some distance from the bungalow and consisted of a small shed about 3ft by 4ft with a wooden seat with a hole in it and a special galvanised oval bucket underneath, the paper used was the "Radio Times" which was better quality than newspaper but softer than it is now. In America I understand that the favourite was Mr Sears-Roebucks catalogue. When the bucket needed emptying it was taken to where the land was being dug and emptied into the trench then covered with earth. Elsan or Jeyes fluid were the common sanitary fluids, they were derivatives of coaltar and had a high phenolic content.
Most people have heard of Papworth Hospital, But not many know that it started at Bourn, better known now for the Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic. In 1918 Sir Pendril Varrier-Jones started a tuberculosis sanatorium in some cottages in Bourn to carry out research and treat patients. After a few years and a great deal of public subscription, the sanatorium moved to Papworth Everard, which Sir Pendrill had bought from Terah Hooley who, with Horatio Bottomley, had been involved in a famous court case. The research into tuberculosis discovered that cow's milk could be a carrier but goat's milk was not. So it was decided that goat's milk should be used for the patients. The milk was supplied by a goat farmer of German descent who lived in Highfields. His name?, Mr Bossert, now commemorated by Bossert's Drive. The milk was taken to the main road every day to meet one of the Papworth Buses, I can remember these small buses having a black top half with a rich red bottom half and had about six or eight seats plus the driver. They probably dated from the 1920's.
Home entertainment consisted of gramophone and wireless (radio), a few musically inclined people played instruments like the piano, harmonium, violin, and I did know one lady who played the mandolin. The gramophone was the wind up HMV type, with a wooden cabinet. At school we had a Decca gramophone (portable) in a wooden case covered with Rexene (imitation leather cloth). The wireless varied from crystal sets, through the range of early sets with earphones, two valve loudspeaker sets, to the newest super-heterodyne loudspeaker sets. There was no mains electricity so all wireless sets had to be battery powered. These were valve sets which employed two volt valves (transistors were not invented till the 1960's), they required 2 volts for the heaters, a grid bias of 3 to 9 volts and a high voltage screen supply of 90 to 120 volts. The grid bias and high tension batteries were of the dry cell type, whilst the 2 volt supply was from a single lead/acid cell which was charged locally by Mr William Bird at the garage on the main road. About 1938 my father bought a new "Ekco" radio, made by E K Cole of Southend-on-Sea. It was a super-heterodyne but was a new departure in that it was powered by two six volt lead/acid batteries, it was superb and much cheaper to run than the older type sets as the batteries could be recharged by Mr Bird. I have never seen another set like it.
The first tractor I saw was about 1936, it was a Fordson Standard on steel wheels and was driven by Ron Wayman from Kingston (he afterwards lived in Highfields). A memorable one, during the war, was an American Case tractor which belonged to the Cambs. War Agricultural Executive Committee and driven by Mr Percy Childerley who lived at the north end of West Drive. This tractor was very modern in appearance, it had mudguards which were of pressed steel and rather streamlined compared with the old Fordsons. The radiator was also covered with a shaped grill and cowling, as distinct from the Fordsons which were just a plain radiator. A British tractor which was very similar was the David Brown which was used by the RAF for aerodrome and road going duties during the war.
Steam threshing and ploughing tackle was still in use at this time. The two main owners of such equipment were the Charter's of Bourn & Caxton and E R Deamer of Hardwick, whose premises are now owned by D Weatherhead. It may be noticed that some fields are in ridges, this came about by years of steam ploughing where the ridge was drawn repeatedly in the same place, thus moving the earth towards the ridge and away from the furrow. It so happens that this also helped with the drainage where the water collected in the furrows away from the crops. This system of ploughing was known as English ploughing, where the plough had a pair of wheels in the middle of a vee shaped beam with up to 14 shares and mouldboards on each arm of the vee. It was hauled by steel cable forwards and backwards between two steam engines fitted with winches under the boilers. As one engine was pulling the other paid out its cable and moved to the next position for pulling. The cable was fitted so that when it was pulled, it brought the arm of the vee down for the direction it was going. There was a seat for the ploughman each end with a wheel for altering the level of the plough from side to side. When an engine was getting short of water, the driver would signal to the water cart driver with the steam whistle. It was because of the need for water that the so called "Duckponds" were created. Most have now been filled in, but were originally dug by hauling a scoop across the site by the cables. The old pond situated near the main road beside the road to Highfields Farm, was dug like this. A telltale sign is when you see a hump of earth at each end of the pond.
The other method of ploughing was known as American ploughing where because it was impractical to haul the plough by cables over long distances, they hooked the plough behind the engine and pulled it while driving across the field. When the smaller petrol/paraffin and diesel tractors came into use it became the only way to pull a plough. A ploughing match is a demonstration of the skill of a ploughman in ploughing a furrow without deviating from a straight line, setting his plough level and opening and closing a "Land" in the correct way. A great deal of skill is required to set out a field in lands before it can be ploughed, a skill which is being lost by use of the reversible plough.
In pre-war days, hay was cut with a grass cutter which was horse drawn but later towed behind a tractor. The horse drawn binders were also towed by tractors, the power being supplied by the main wheel of the binder as it was towed along. The cut grass was left to dry, and when dried out on top it had to be turned. This was often done by using a horse rake which pulled it into rows across the field. If it needed further turning, that was done by women and boys with pitch forks. After the war we saw machines made, which did the turning, these were called "Tedders".
It was the practice to send a man to cut the headlands with a scythe before the binder went in. Later they decided it was quicker to make the first cut in the normal clockwise direction, then go round anti-clockwise to cut the corn which had been run down by the tractor on the first cut.
There were no 'combined harvesters' in those days, the corn was cut with a 'binder' which tied it in sheaves, these were then 'shocked' (stood on end, leaning together in groups of six to twelve. After drying these were 'pitched' (loaded) onto carts and carried to the stackyard or a part of the field near the gate. Loading of a cart would be done by a boy and it is a skilled job to pack the sheaves on the cart so that they do not fall off, the loads were seldom roped unless they went via a rough road. During the school holidays I worked for Mr Archie Clarke of Clare Farm, He had several horses including one called Prince. My father warned me that this horse was a chancer, in other words, if you give him half a chance he will bolt across the field. Now a horse bolting with a heavy cart behind it can be very dangerous, and my father told me that I should always keep a "thatching spit" (an elm stick used in thatching) in the cart. When the horse bolted, let him have his way but steer him round the field till he was ready to stop, then make him do another round of the field, and he would never give you any trouble again. My father was right, the first day I was driving him he bolted, I did as I was told and I never had any more trouble from him.
The sheaves would stand in the stack until the winter when the steam threshing tackle would arrive to thresh the corn. Often a fence of wire about three feet high would be erected around the stack which was being threshed, to trap the rats. Terrier dogs of the 'Jack Russell' type were put inside the fence, and would continuously run round the stack snapping rats as they came to them. They killed the rats by snapping their spine with one bite, one dog could kill dozens of rats in a short time. the sheaves were pitched onto a 'Drum', a man standing on the top of the drum cut the twine band with a hooked knife and dropped the loose corn onto the drum. It then went through the 'beaters' which are two wheels with bars between them, they whirr round at high speed beating the corn against the 'concave', which is a set of bars shaped to a curve slightly less than the beaters and are set with a wide gap at the start and small gap at the end. The corn is knocked through the concave and onto a series of 'riddles' which dress the corn. The riddles are of different sizes, the first is larger than the corn grains and holds anything bigger allowing the corn to drop through, the next is smaller and holds the larger of the corn, then the next holds the smaller corn allowing the weed seeds to drop through. The riddles are shaken by cranks and arms and the stuff held by that riddle is shaken off into a chute which takes it to the sack which it is to go in according to what it is. While this is happening there is a fan which blows a draught of air through the drum and over the riddles to blow the chaff out (chaff is the outer husk around the kernel of corn, it is what you see when you look at corn growing). The spent straw is then passed on 'straw walkers' to the end of the drum (straw walkers are bars with metal teeth pointing toward the end of the drum, the bars are mounted on shafts with a crank for each bar. when the shafts rotate the bars alternately move up-forward-down-backward). This action 'walks' the straw out of the drum and drops it onto an elevator which takes it up and drops it onto the new stack or onto a bailer to be bailed and transported.
Threshing in the winter provided casual work for local men. Other winter jobs would be hedgecutting, ditching, and failing these, rabbiting. Rabbiting was done on a basis of 'you earn what you catch'. Ratting was usually on a payment 'per tail', other vermin on a similar basis. Farmers often allowed men to go rabbit and pigeon shooting, but some farmers wouldn't allow it as they were afraid that they might loose hares or partridges, pheasants were not common then. My father upset the local farmers one year when he grew 'Buckwheat' which drew the birds in from a long way round. They thought he had done it for that purpose, but it was actually grown on contract for a merchant. Of course, it was quite legal for him to shoot the birds on his own land.
In the early 1930's I remember going out with my father and mother on a tandem bicycle, with a box seat on the rear carrier. Most people in Caldecote at that time were fairly hard-up, and if there were several children in the family then the children would not have much opportunity to travel outside the village. It was a great occasion when the annual Sunday School Outing came round, we would travel by coach to Hunstanton in Norfolk to the seaside. I suppose I was lucky being an only child, my sister having died when she was five months old. It made it possible to travel on the tandem and later, on the motor-cycle and sidecar, which he would not have had if there were more in the family.
My father started a smallholding with financial help from my mothers father. He grew flowers for market, they were cut and boxed (in wooden boxes) in the evening. In the early morning the horse had to be harnessed to the cart, the boxes loaded on and taken to Old North Road Station, a distance of about four miles. The cart was a bakers cart which we used for general transport. It had a lorry axle and wheels with pneumatic tyres with the lorry brakes connected to a lever beside the driving seat so that the brake could be used downhill (it makes it easier for the horse). In 1936 I was 7 years old and on several occasions drove the cart to the station and back on my own. When I arrived at the station, the stationmaster would unload the boxes. As this was between about 5-7am I saw hardly anyone on the road. I would then have to get ready and cycle about 1.5 miles to school.
The smallholding was a hand to mouth existence, as many times when the flowers had been sent to market, they would not sell and my father had to pay the auctioneers charges, carriage etc. Sometimes the flowers would be cut and packed, only to get a telegram saying "Flowers won't travel", which meant that they then had to be dumped on the compost heap. To help out my father did a greengrocery round in Highfields and along the St Neots Road to Hardwick turn, on Saturday afternoon and evening. I went with him and usually rode home on the handcart. We had some competition from a man from Dry Drayton. One of our customers told us that she had bought some nice apples from him at 3lbs for 4d, my father told her that our apples were 4lbs for 3d but she could not see the difference. Incidentally, at the market, my father had not bought the apples which she had, because he wanted better quality.
1935 was memorable for the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. The village made a great show of decorations with union jacks everywhere. We had a village "Fete" at the Village Hall, and I still have a photograph of the fancy dress parade. My mother normally wore pince-nez glasses, and she borrowed a morning suit, top hat and silver topped cane. She dressed up as a city gent with a small moustache, and no-one new who she was.
It was in 1936 that we had a very dry summer, the wells dried up except for two (one was my grandfathers), and the Chesterton Rural District Council had to supply tanks round the village and keep them supplied with water (as happened in Yorkshire in 1995). One day we saw much smoke in the Kingston/Bourn direction, we got on our bikes and cycled down to the railway bridge. The sight which greeted us was of cornfields on fire for about one and a half miles along the south side of the railway.
It was also in 1936 that the government (being goaded by Mr Winston Churchill) started to build aerodromes for defence. This investment of public money (which they were forced into) started the upturn in the economy and a reduction in unemployment. My father got a job on Debden Aerodrome in Essex, It was about 25 miles each way and he cycled the first week. When he got paid, he bought a second-hand AJS motorcycle for 12s 6d. (62.5 pence decimal), so he was then able to ride to work which effectively shortened his working day from around 13 hours to 10.5 hours. When that job finished he went to Bassingbourn which had just started. Whilst there he bought another motorcycle and sidecar, I think he paid £1 5s for it. It was a Triumph Ricardo 500cc ohv, and would be worth a fortune today.
12th May 1937 saw the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elisabeth and although the decorations were good, I personally, do not think they were as good as the Silver Jubilee. It was about this time that my brother George was born, unfortunately he died when he was five weeks old. It was put down to a wasting disease but I have since been told that it was a problem due to conflicting blood groups, which usually cause this problem in subsequent babies after the first. My second sister Idell was born in 1942 and died at five days old from the same problem.
In 1938 my father went to Wyton Aerodrome and worked for Gerrards of Leicester, he became site foreman and could have had a good career with them if he had been prepared to travel around. They offered him a house at Leicester and a pay rise. Because of the impending war he declined the offer as he did not want to work away from home. He closed the site for them and then went to work on laying underground telephone ducts. There were no mechanical diggers like we have today, it all had to be dug with a spade and shovel. These ducts are still in use today.
In 1936 my maternal Grandfather bought my mother a bicycle, it was a Raleigh with three speed hub, Miller dynamo set and a basket. It cost £4.10.0 (£4.50). My mother got a domestic job in Cambridge, working first for Dr and Mrs Grace of Herschel House, Herschel Road, until they went back to Canada. She later worked for Dr Paul Hirsch and his family who escaped from Germany. Dr Hirsch lived at 10 Adams Road.
The local boy's had a number of pastimes, one was to play with either a whip and top or a hoop (usually an old bicycle rim), on the way to and from school. The only decent surface for this was the road and as there was little traffic those days, even on the main road, it was no problem. Vehicles did not travel very fast those days, all light goods vehicles including single decked buses were limited to 30mph and heavy goods vehicles and double decked buses were limited to 20mph. These limits remained in force until the 1950's. Another favourite pastime was the catapult, made with the 'Y' fork of a branch and quarter inch catapult elastic. A favourite target was the porcelain insulators on the telegraph poles. I suspect that other targets were rabbits and pigeons. Several boys had trained Jackdaws to talk.
At home we had at this time, a dog which was a terrier/spaniel cross. He was trained as a gun-dog and although he did not retrieve he would find any animal or bird that was shot and stay with it till we found him. One day Bob Stevens and myself were going through the wood when we saw the dog with a rabbit he had caught. We decided to get the rabbit away from him and succeeded. Later we saw him with another one, but he gave us a very wide berth this time. The rabbit we had taken made a very nice rabbit pie.
At the outbreak of war (3rd Sept 1939) we were still living in Highfields with nearly ten acres of land. The government decided that all land must be cultivated to grow food, my father who was working long hours on construction work could not possibly cultivate the land as well, so he sold it to a Mr Lambert from London and we moved to St Neots Road, Hardwick. Much land that was not cultivated was eventually taken over by the Cambridgeshire War Agricultural Executive Committee, but that ten acres was not taken.
Dr Grace was in England when the war started and Mrs Grace came over soon afterwards with her family, Barry, Ronnie, and Rosemary. I believe that Dr Grace went into the Royal Army Medical Corps. Mrs Grace lived in Flat 5, Kent House, Sussex Street, Cambridge, during the war, and I became very friendly with Ronnie. We often went out together in Cambridge, mostly fishing in the Mill Pool. On one occasion we were walking through the lane next to Kings College when Ronnie looked down into an "area" window, he saw a half-crown laying in the bottom with a lot of rubbish. We went back to Kings Parade, bought some chewing gum (one half-penny), chewed it and stuck it on a fishing rod, then pushed it down through the grid over the window and onto the half-crown, raising it up through the grid. For a half-penny we now had 30 pence, not a bad profit.
After brief periods at Witchford, Waterbeach and Oakington Aerodromes my father started at Bourn in 1940. While he was working at Oakington, he was travelling to work with our next door neighbour, Jack Leaney, who had a car and got a petrol ration for work providing he carried three others with him. One day when they were coming home, they found the road through Dry Drayton closed, and had to go round via Madingley. During that day a stick of bombs had fallen across from Hall Drive, Hardwick to Scotland Farm, two were unexploded and one of these was in the edge of the road about 100 - 150 yds from the main road. The other one was at the back of Scotland Farmhouse and went off at 5.0pm but the one in the road lay there for three weeks before it was dug out and blown up. One of the bombs which exploded, hit the ground on the north side of the main road opposite what is now 287 St Neots Road, it blew a clod of earth straight through the tiled roof of 287 and until recently the patch of new tiles could still be seen. It has now been re-roofed.
Bourn Aerodrome was started in 1940 probably about March or April and it became operational towards the end of 1940. The first squadron there was equipped with Vickers Wellingtons, the best twin engine bomber that we had at that time. It was powered by two Bristol Hercules radial engines and had a gun turret in the nose and tail both with two Browning .303 machine guns. After take-off they would head southwest for the U-Boat pens at Brest in France. This was a regular run for them although they did raid other places such as Cologne and the Ruhr. The U-Boat pens were covered with thick re-enforced concrete and were bomb proof at that time. Later when bigger bombs and aircraft were available the U-Boat threat had been overcome, and more important targets were attacked.
Soon after Bourn became operational, we went to school one morning to find that during the night, a returning Wellington coming in to land had caught the chimney with its undercarriage and scattered the bricks all over the playground. We were sent home and the school was closed and demolished. We were then split-up, children from Caldecote and the main road to the west of the school went to Caldecote Village Hall, those from Highfields Farm and the main road east of Caldecote Turn went to Hardwick Village Hall, it was in Hall Drive (both no longer in existence). The heating in these was the same as the old school i.e. Slow Combustion Stoves, these were cast iron top and bottom. The top had a door to fill the stove and a spigot and cast-iron chimney to vent the gases. The bottom had a door for cleaning out and regulating the draught which in turn regulated the heat. In between was a sheet steel cylinder lined with firebrick. The fuel used was coke which was the remaining product after gas and coal tar had been extracted at the gas works. It was my job to look after these stoves at Hardwick. The top of the stove got very hot and at one stage the boys found that by pulling the bullet out of an American rifle cartridge that they contained short sticks of cordite about 6mm long, they would throw a few of these on top of the stove. The cordite would lay there for some minutes until it was hot enough to ignite, when there would be a spurt of flame and a hissing sound. The teacher got very annoyed. It was not particularly dangerous but as always, some clown has to go one better. One day someone hid a twelvebore cartridge in the coke hod, I filled the stove before the morning break and we then went out to play. Luckily it exploded while everyone was outside. I heard a bang and looking towards the Hall I saw a puff of smoke from the chimney and the cowl tilted to one side. I rushed inside to find that the top door had blown open and red hot coke was scattered over the wood floor. I rushed round with the shovel clearing up. We had a stern lecture and I got the impression that I was being blamed. They took a lot of convincing that I hadn't done it.
The commanding officer of RAF Bourn in 1940/1 was Squadron Leader Colley. My father was a personal friend and so I could go to the headquarters when I liked. The service police post at the gate was a large ridge tent with a stove and wooden floor built in, it was always warm, even on the coldest days as the tent was made of slabs of cork between two layers of canvas. Security seemed very slack but was in fact quite tight. On one occasion a security officer arrived at the airfield, made his way to several different places in the camp and eventually went storming into the H.Q. demanding to see the Camp Commandant. He told Sqdn Ldr Colley that security was poor. Sqdn Ldr Colley then told him exactly where he had been and at what time, he told him that had he made one false move he would have been shot. Told to look behind, the security officer found himself looking down the barrel of a webley pistol held by a police corporal who had shadowed him since entering the gate.
One night (probably in 1942) a Junkers Ju 88 attempted to bomb the hangars at Bourn, which had been built to assemble Short Stirling heavy bombers, that were made at Madingley Road, Cambridge (beside where the M11 is now). A Bristol Beaufighter (they carried Radar and four Oerlikon 20mm cannons) caught it silhouetted against its own parachute flares, and raked it with shells. It was burning from end to end when it crashed on Orwell Hill.
As my father was very friendly with the officers, we sometimes went to the camp theatre. I can remember one show put on by the entertainments officer, of acts drawn from camp personnel. The star act was a member of the Royal Jamaican Air Force singing songs usually sung by Leslie Hutchinson, the renowned coloured singer. He was Aircraftman Hutchinson, Leslie's brother.
The squadron was equipped with Stirlings which at that time was the only heavy bomber we had. Although it was powered by four Bristol Hercules engines and had three gun turrets with twin Brownings in the front and mid-upper and four Brownings in the tail, it suffered heavy losses due no doubt to the fact that it could only fly for about ten minutes on three engines. One Stirling which seemed to have a charmed life, was very old and had been repaired many times. Each time it was re-sprayed and eventually the pilot complained that it was very sluggish. It was stripped of all the paint then re-sprayed. I heard that they removed seven tons of paint from it (the equivalent of a full bomb load).
The Boeing B17B and B17E Flying Fortress was a more reliable aircraft but still had heavy losses because of the way they operated in daylight. B17E's carried much more in the way of defensive weapons and less in bomb load (4 tons max. against 7 tons max. for the Stirling). The .5 machine gun was decidedly better than the .303, as was the 20mm cannon against the .5 machine gun. However the 20mm was too big to be used as a traverse/elevation gun so was unsuitable for bomber defence, although I am informed by a retired RAF officer friend that it was tried. Fighters with 20mm cannon had a distinct advantage over bombers with .303 or .5 machine guns, and when the fighters started carrying rockets, the heavy bombers had had their day. But the best of all heavy bombers was yet to come.
The Summer term of 1943 saw us moved again from the Village Halls to the newly built school near Highfields Farm. It was a prefabricated concrete building which consists of two long huts joined end on end by a cloakroom area which was the main entrance. It is still there and is now owned by Mr Paul Maskell and used as a poultry unit. The end of the term was the end of my time at school locally.
I began the Autumn term at the Cambridgeshire Technical School (now Anglia Polytechnic University). I was to study building in general, and decorating in particular. I now realised how much we had missed at the local school, when I had to learn to calculate in decimal and duo-decimal (never heard of it?, I am not surprised, it was a complicated system of calculating in 12's used in building science with the old imperial measure, "Hurray for decimalisation"). There has recently been talk of changing to hexadecimal (a system of counting in sixteen's, are they mad?) because computer systems use that method of calculating. I had to learn to use Logarithms and a slide rule. Slide rules are of different lengths, more length equals more accuracy. They consist of two parts marked off in a progressive scale and third part called the cursor. By lining up a figure with another figure and using the cursor, it is possible to calculate to almost any value. Linear slide rules had the disadvantage of "End Switching". I still have a Fowler Universal Calculator, a rotary slide rule which does not require end switching, it has a 60 inch scale (equal to a linear rule 1.5 meters long), is 88 millimetres in diameter and fits in the jacket pocket. How times change?, I now use a computer program which can display to 50 decimal places and calculate to many more, a ridiculous accuracy only necessary for outer space navigation.
We were to witness a full scale airborn operation when the Stirlings left Bourn. There appeared in the sky, a large number of Bristol Beaufort Glider Tugs pulling Horsa Gliders. The Gliders were released and landed on the grass, the Beauforts dropped their cables then landed on the main runway, one pilot, unable to release his cable, came in to land with it flapping up and down behind him. Some local boys who had come to watch the exercise were standing on the main road, one of these was Mr Victor Smith-Chappell of Highfields (now living at Childerley) who had leant his bike against the barbed wire perimeter fence. The plane came in over the fence, the cable swung down, caught the fence and bike and dragged it along the runway, smashing it to pieces in the process. It was a new bike and Vic told his father that someone had stolen it. It was lucky that the cable had not hit the boys. After they were all landed, the squadron ground equipment was loaded, the gliders hitched up again and the Beauforts took off towing the gliders behind them. No doubt this was a rehearsal for the D-Day landings.
The Squadron which replaced the Stirlings at Bourn was equipped with Avro Lancaster's. These were the most successful heavy bomber of the war, and yet it was a modification of an unsuccessful design. The original design was the Avro Manchester, a twin engine bomber which although powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines was seriously underpowered, it was modified and two extra engines added. This gave the power required for such a plane. It now had so much power that it was more manoeuvrable than the Stirling and could carry a heavier bomb load (max. 8 tons as against 7 tons for the Stirling). The performance of these planes made them ideal for Prof. Barnes-Wallis's Bouncing Bomb which the "Dam Busters" used against the Ruhr Dams. It went on to be modified again and became the Avro Lincoln which served the Royal Air Force for many years in peacetime as a search and rescue aircraft until it was eventually replaced by the Nimrod. My stepdaughter's husband was (1996) stationed at RAF Kinloss, Morayshire, where the Nimrod is still in use. If you count the Lancaster and Lincoln as one design then it must run a close second for length of service, to the Avro Anson which served the RAF in many roles from (I believe) 1926 to 1987, when the last one was de-commissioned. Some Anson's are still flying in 1996.
A black day for Bourn was when an important target was
located and the meteorologists forecast heavy fog over most of England. They
eventually forecast that there might be a clear patch over Bourn when the
planes were due back. Nineteen planes were ordered off, they found the target,
bombed it and returned without loss, but the clear patch had not materialised
and Bourn was blanketed with heavy fog. We had seen the planes take off in the
evening and were very worried when the fog closed in. My father was now working
directly for the Air Ministry at Bourn and knew most of the crews, he also knew
the short-wave frequency which the aircraft used. We could not sleep and waited
for their return with the radio on the frequency. My father identified one R/T
operator when they were some distance off. The fog was still as thick as ever.
We thought that they would be able to land at Graveley where they had F.I.D.O.
as this was a system of petrol burners which caused an updraught and should
lift the fog, it didn't. There were now nineteen Lancaster's circling Bourn
with no chance of landing. Everything that could be burnt was heaped up beside
the runway and set alight to try to show the pilots the runway. Only one pilot,
quite by chance, saw the fires and slammed his aircraft down on the runway.
They were the only survivors. We could hear the operators talking to the
control tower (which was a caravan at Bourn), it was amazing, they knew by then
that they had little chance of surviving but were asking for permission to land
as their fuel gauges were showing empty, their voice was the normal detached
voice they would have used for a peacetime Summer afternoon approach. One pilot
was ordered to divert to an airfield in Lincolnshire, he never reached
There were now seventeen Lancaster's in the circuit and one by one they ran out of fuel and crashed. We heard a crash then there would be a check call when the remaining operators answered, My father would then say "that's F for Freddie gone down" and we knew another seven men had gone. In the morning there were 35 bodies in the mortuary at Bourn, with more at Oakington, Graveley and Gransden Lodge airfields.
Time was now moving towards D-Day, the area saw more and more army convoys, both British and American, with the occasional Canadian and Free Continental Army units. Suddenly these seemed to be no longer around, it was early Summer 1944. On D-Day I was at school at the 'Tech' when the announcement was made that our troops had landed in Normandy, a great cheer went up, we didn't have a holiday but I don't think we learnt much that day.
It was probably around this time that the Lancaster's left Bourn and were replaced by De Havilland Mosquitoes, some of the wings for these were made at Papworth Industries in the Carpenters Shop. I worked there in the 1950's and the drawings were still in the sprayshop. The Mosquito was built mainly of wood, it was light and fast, powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines. It was used as a fighter and bomber, and was so fast that it was used unarmed for photo-reconnaissance, as it could outfly any fighter in use by the Germans at that time. The Mosquitoes at Bourn were Pathfinders which meant that they found the target, lit it up with incendiary bombs so that the heavy bombers could go in without having to find the target. Afterwards another of their squadron which was stripped of all guns etc. and fitted with a reconnaissance camera would go out at top speed to photograph the result of the raid. Later they were to operate on the "Round the clock raids" on Berlin. The plan was that two Mosquitoes would arrive over Berlin every twenty minutes which would keep a constant state of alert for days or weeks according to the weather. The German defences were in very poor shape at this time and the Allies were able to attack anywhere.
The war in Europe had finished when I left the 'Tech' and started my apprenticeship in decorating.
One job which we did in July 1945, when the war in Europe had ended was to repaint the RAF Hospital at Ely, it was here that we saw the effects of the aerial combat. The hospital was almost completely occupied by aircrew burns patients. Something which we could not understand was that no-one had thought to rescind the order that we were only allowed to have primer showing which could be covered up with camouflage in ten minutes. As the paint had a drying time of around two hours you can imagine the effect, there were streaks of red everywhere.
It was towards the end of the war that we saw the first 'Combined Harvesters' which were sent over under the 'Lend/Lease' scheme. They were very large machines which were designed for the American prairies, and had to be dismantled to move them through our narrow lanes. They moved so slowly that it would take all morning to go round a large field. It is these machines which caused the destruction of the hedges and ditches by making fields larger. Many individual trees and copses have disappeared because they were a nuisance when working these machines. It shows that these modern machines do not in the end achieve a better living. In 1964 the price of wheat was around £120 per ton, in 1996 it is not much more yet the price of bread is very much more. In 2000 the price is down to about £70 per ton. So the farmers lost out, it was the millers and bakers who have made the profits. In 1996 there is much land on 'set-aside' which was a system also imported from America, whereby the farmers are paid not to grow crops.
In 1945, having made new friends at the 'Tech', I started to cycle to Papworth to the Thursday night film performance at the Pendragon Theatre. which was to continue to the 1950's. I became more interested in the activities at Papworth, in time I became involved in running the theatre, my father became full time caretaker, my hobbies became the sound system for the interval music (an early disk jockey), stage lighting, and old time dancing. The hospital radiographer, Mr Edmund Groves who was a keen photographer and stage lighting technician, taught me about photography.
My great day came in 1950 when I was 21 years old, my father booked the Pendragon Theatre for a dance in commemoration of my birthday. We hired a band and there were over 100 guests, there was a buffet and my father supplied 40 bottles of each, parsnip and elderberry home-made wine. It was powerful stuff, as not only is home-made wine strong but this was fortified with spirit. There were a lot of hangovers the next day, and when Dr Leonard Stott went to the surgery to get some aspirins there was a queue waiting. It was probably the fastest surgery he had ever held. Dr Stott was in the 8th Army in the desert during the war. He was taken prisoner at one stage by the Italians and because he was a doctor they gave him a job in their field hospital. After three days he decided he did not like it, got in a truck and drove back through the lines to the British Army.
After the war we were restricted on many things, rationing was retained for many years. Building materials were in short supply, timber was rationed to 10s worth (50p) per month for ordinary house maintenance. Petrol was still rationed, a basic ration started in late 1944 or early 1945. I was 16 in March and my father gave me a motorcycle which he had bought new in 1940 for £27 10s (£27.50 decimal). I applied for a driving licence which cost 5s for a year (25p decimal). The road tax for that motorcycle (under 150cc was 17s 6d (87.5p) The basic ration for up to 250cc was 2.5 gallons per month and I believe over 250cc was 3.5 gallons per month. If you had to use your motor to go to work you could apply for a supplementary ration according to the miles you had to do. If you had to use your motor for essential work then you had an essential ration which gave you priority in buying tyres etc., and even to buying a new motor vehicle which was not available otherwise. A friend was on essential ration and he was able to buy one new vehicle every year, the old one was then available free of restriction on the second-hand market. After petrol rationing finished, this system was still carried on by the fact that to be sure of a new car you needed a permit. Permit holders had first demand on a new car, others had to take their chance on a dealer having one to spare. As you can imagine, the price of a year old car was in excess of the new price. My friends Jowett Javelin was worth £1020 in 1951 when the new price was £800.
In the late 1940's a group of us youths (now referred to as teenagers) used to travel around on our motorcycles. We went to dances on Saturday evenings, Motorcycle Scrambles (Motorcross) on Sundays. One of my friends decided that he wanted another bike and asked me if I would take him to buy it, and he could then ride it home. It was advertised in "The Motor Cycle" magazine by Pride and Clarke of Brixton, London, at £100. This was a very unsavoury part of London (it still is), so before we went we divided the money between us, took off our riding boots and wrapped 25 one pound notes round each ankle. Imagine the salesman's surprise when my friend said he would take it and we promptly sat down on the showroom floor, took off our boots and handed him the money. The bike was a 1936 Rudge Ulster 500cc with a bronze cylinder head. It was the same as the bike which won many road races in 1935/36. It could do well over 100mph. It was to be nearly 30 years before I had a bike which equalled this, It was a Velocette 500cc Venom Veeline.
We also used to go to Hemingford Grey and hire boats for the afternoon, to row or paddle to Houghton Mill and back. We preferred this to Cambridge but did sometimes go to Cambridge.
It was in the late 1940's that I sometimes went to the Fox at Caldecote with Bob Stevens and my cousin, Brian Lawrence. On one occasion, Bob and I cycled down to the Fox for a beer. At this time there were a family living at Lily Farm, opposite the Fox, which included several daughters. Some of them were in the pub on this occasion. As it was a warm summer evening, Bob and I were both in our shirt sleeves. We sat in the bar drinking our beer and the girls were intrigued by the fact that Bob's shirt kept moving, suddenly there were shrieks from the girls as a ferret popped his head out of Bob's shirt front. The girls calmed down and were soon at home with the ferret. Bob kept several ferrets and often took one out with him.
In 1949 I joined the Camping Club of Great Britain & Ireland, and started cycle camping, I had been cycling for several years. I now began to travel around Eastern England. At the end of 1949 I decided it would be a good idea to get local members together and form a District Association. I obtained the list of names and addresses from head office and sent out circulars. We arranged an inaugural meet to coincide with the North London & Eastern Counties Regional meet which was to be held at Little Paxton, St Neots. This was arranged for the Whitsun Weekend. We were expecting about 100 persons maximum due to petrol rationing, but at 6pm on the Friday it was announced that petrol rationing would cease as from midnight, of course many garages were prepared to sell their stocks that evening and we had members arriving after midnight, the final number was in excess of 200. The first committee of the Beds. Cambs. and Hunts. District Association was elected, the Chairman was Mr Woodbine Haylock of Bedford, treasurer, Mr William Todd of Kempston, and I was elected Secretary.
From then on, for the rest of the season I was out every weekend cycling or motorcycling as I chose. Food rationing was still in force, so we had to take our food with us. 1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain and we saw celebrations in many places around Beds. Cambs. and Hunts. as we camped each weekend. The remainder of rationing finished in 1954. During 1952 I developed an interest in canoeing and boating so although I was still camping at times, I was concentrating more on boating. I canoed on the Cam and Great Ouse. One journey that I undertook was from Cambridge to Kings Lynn by river. The canoe was a Granta Kingfisher two seater, I modified it to take a small outboard motor, a Seagull minor. the motor was fixed in line with the canoe in a trunk behind the rear seat so that it could be refuelled and started easily, steering was by a rudder fitted to the stern and controlled by lines. The canoe was 14ft long and did 9 knots maximum with very little bow wave. The trip from Cambridge to Kings Lynn took about 10.5 hours including stops for locks and food. One place where I often camped was at the Fish and Duck at Little Thetford, this pub was on the river bank at the junction of the Rivers Cam, Old West and Great Ouse. There was no road to it, the landlord had a boat to get to Ely and may have had a car somewhere but not at the pub. Anyone wanting to get to the pub without a boat had to use the drove from Little Thetford then ring the bell for the landlord to fetch them across. As this applied also to the Police and Customs and Excise, you can imagine how strictly the licensing hours were observed. I never saw anyone drunk there, it wouldn't pay as you had to cross the river. It was very popular with the boating fraternity. The pub later became a restaurant and a road was built to it, a distance of about 2.5 miles.
I got married in 1955, but it was a disaster, after 12 years we separated and later divorced. During the 1950's and 60's I did a lot of cycling, I was a member of the Cyclists Touring Club and the Youth Hostels Assn. After several years I knew most of the roads in East Anglia and the East Midlands. I joined the Youth Hostels Association.
In 1957 we moved to East Wretham in Norfolk where I worked for the Forestry Commission. The Commission was organised in Districts and 'Beats', the beat being the smallest working unit. Our beat was one of the larger ones and was named Roudham Heath, it covered Roudham, Brettenham, and Bridgham Heaths and Bridgham Common. It was larger than most beats in terms of staff because we had 24 acres of nursery (there is no nursery there now). We dispatched 1.75 million one year old trees and 1.75 million two year old trees each year. We grew all varieties of conifers plus oak and beech. Copper beech are not a variety but trees which develop without the ability to produce chlorophyl. I suppose it is a genetic disorder. As these are highly valued by gardeners and estate owners, we had to mark each one in the summer. In the winter we lifted them and they were sold into the nursery trade. These and the cypress 'culls' were the only trees sold to the trade, all others were sold to other parts of the Forestry Commission and to other Forestry Commissions abroad. We kept a herd of 40 red deer in the forest, I had the luck to see all 40 one day when I was on duty on the Roudham Fire Tower. We were told to do a count if we saw them. One day on the tower I received a phone call from the control room, asking if I could see smoke on a certain bearing. I picked up the binoculars and scanned 15 degrees either side of the bearing but could see nothing. I asked where the smoke was supposed to be, the operator told me Holt in North Norfolk so I suggested she called High Ash Tower near Swaffham. Holt is 40 miles from Roudham Tower and would be impossible to see smoke even on the clearest of days. The farthest point I have seen from Roudham were the radar towers at Long Stratton, south of Norwich (25 Miles to the east). These were only visible on one occasion and then for only about five minutes. The Forestry Fire Service was part of our organisation, the Fire Officer at that time was, I think, sympathetic to public access. When a Forester said he had padlocked a gate over the Harling Drove and that the fire tender driver could get the key at the cottage, his answer was that he would instruct his drivers to drive straight through any locked gates (The fire tenders were fitted with a 9"x 3" channel girder as a battering ram to push down any small trees which were in the way).
This was a time when I realised that I was happier in the country than in the town. Working in the forest is a very pleasant occupation, when I lived at Larkshall, East Wretham, we had no mains services at all. Water was delivered twice a week by the Forestry Fire Service. Heating and cooking was done with wood and paraffin, lighting was by Tilley pressure lamps using paraffin, waste from the Elsan toilet was dug into the garden. The house had three bedrooms, lounge and kitchen with a walk in larder under the staircase. the kitchen was 13 feet by 17.5 feet. The rent for this was 3s 6d per month (17.5p). This was not the cheapest rent in the area, as when the War Dept took over the villages during the war, they had to re-house the residents. The deal was that those residents would be rehoused in council houses at the rent they were paying at that time. No-one thought to write into the deal an allowance for inflation, so rents remained the same for life.
At Larkshall I was within 50 miles of the coast from Kings Lynn to Felixstowe. On one occasion I sent my wife and children to Hunstanton by train while a friend and myself cycled there. My friend Dave Waters and I, used to ride a tandem, we could maintain a speed of 30mph for a long distance. It was a problem at night with bulbs blowing due to the high output from the dynamo at that speed, I eventually overcame it by fitting two rear lights with higher wattage bulbs. I kept my contacts with the Cambridge District Association of the Cyclists Touring Club and often met them at Brandon on a Sunday morning to lead them through the Brecklands to the teaplace. On one occasion I met them at Brandon and we cycled from Brandon to Roudham Heath along the Harling Drove, this was an old track that was used by drovers to take sheep to market at East Harling. As you go along the drove there are gates from one area to another, these are to prevent animals such as rabbits, from moving to another area. As we went through one of these gates there was a large patch of loose sand, one of our riders (George Rich) in getting on his bike, managed to catch the front of the saddle in the back pocket of his shorts. The result was a tangle of bike and rider laying in the sand. Later that afternoon we found that we were ahead of time, so we all laid down in the shade of a roadside tree which was in full blossom. We spent about half an hour listening to the bees in the blossom. On another occasion we were crossing Methwold Heath on a path and enjoyed the heavy scent of wild thyme. There are some very pleasant experiences to be had while cycling.
In 1959 I went to work for the Hospital Board at Royston Hospital, my job involved call outs at night as well as normal day hours for which there was an agreed standard overtime. After a few months they cut the agreed pay, and the matron who disagreed with their action gave orders that I was not to be called out after hours. I gave my notice to the matron who told me that she had also given notice.
It was while I was at Royston that I had one of the most memorable experiences in my life. The Club decided to hold an "All night run" I volunteered to lead it, I decided that we would go to Kyson Hill, Woodbridge in Suffolk for breakfast. We started from Cambridge at about 10.0pm on Saturday 20th June, It was a beautiful night with a full moon and very little cloud. We cycled to Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds, then on to Stowmarket. It was about 2.30am when we were between Bury and Stowmarket that we had a very peculiar experience, the sky was clear and for about 10 minutes we had an equal strength of light from the moon on our right and the dawn on our left. It was a most peculiar feeling. We carried on to Kyson Hill, where we arrived around 6.30am and proceeded to cook breakfast. We continued cycling around East Suffolk to eventually meet up with the all-day and afternoon runs at the teaplace at Bury St Edmunds.
I moved to Knapwell in July 1959, where we lived for five years. During this time I worked for Mr John Banks, doing farm work and building repair. It was during this time that I learnt the skills of farming. I continued my cycling and became a member of the Youth Hostels Association, serving a period on the Eastern Regional Council as representative of the Cambridge D.A. of the C.T.C. I also became Runs Secretary of the D.A. and produced the runs list.
My father died in 1964, I then left Knapwell and returned to Hardwick to live, returning to the building trade and working for Mr Tom Neech and his son Alan. I stayed with Tom for about two years, and being persuaded to do a few jobs in my spare time, I found myself with a job for a petrol company which decided me to go full time with my own business. I carried on this business for about seven years. There was a slight recession about 1974 and finding that I could not foresee a reliable flow of orders during the winter, I decided to close it down. A word of warning to anyone running a small business, DO NOT allow yourself to take on large orders which will mean that you cannot continue to give service to your regular customers, when the large order comes to an end you will have no work.
It was in the early 1970's that I purchased the Velocette Venom Veeline motorcycle, it was a beautifully designed machine, the usual Velocette high standard of engineering plus having a four gallon fuel tank and a fairing which covered the lower part of the engine and gearbox. It was the usual Velocette black with gold lining and name. Although fitted out for touring, with Panniers etc., I have ridden this machine at between 90 and 100mph. A similar machine took the twenty four hour touring endurance record at an average 101.1mph with a relay of six riders at Thruxton airfield. One of the riders was the Managing Director of Velocette, Mr Bertie Goodman.
It was also during the early 1970's that I became secretary of the Eastern Branch of the National Federation of Master Painters (a master tradesmen's union). It involved negotiations to get fair deals for sub-contractors. One very interesting case started when a member complained to me that a certain firm in Colchester owed him several thousand pounds and would not pay up. I said I would take it up at the national meeting. At the meeting I mentioned it to a colleague telling him the name of the firm, he told me to tell one of our National Council members who he said was the real owner of the firm. On telling him about it he said "leave it with me", at the end of that week I had a phone call from my member to say that he had received payment of the full amount. I believe that Manager got a good dressing down for getting the firm a bad name.
I joined the Special Constabulary in 1973 and spent much spare time on police duties, I found that the job which was my forte was traffic control. I spent many hours doing this at accidents and markets on our section, I also did traffic control in Cambridge City when an accident occurred at a critical junction and traffic had to be diverted. I also joined the International Police Association. Whilst in the force, I , along with many others from 'B' Division, was taken by police bus to Peterborough to take part in cordoning off and making house to house enquiries in part of Peterborough. The manoeuvre was successful, not only in clearing up a murder enquiry, but also several other crimes as well.
During this time, we had the internationally infamous case of the "Cambridge Rapist". Our specials were engaged for weeks on surveillance in Cambridge City, I spent much time on this enquiry paired with our Section Sergeant. When Peter Samuel Cook was eventually caught, it was due to the presence of mind of two anglers who were night fishing in Newnham.
In 1975 I started work for the Post Office Telephones. I worked on the switchboard first at Cambridge Central Exchange then after about 3 months we were all transferred to Cambridge Trunk Exchange at Long Road, I continued on the switchboard for 2 years. It was night operating which involved some shifts of 14 hours (usually once a week).
In the Spring of 1976 I bought a JAWA 350cc twin cylinder motorcycle. I fitted canvas pannier bags to it, and after running it in, loaded it with camping equipment and food, and started out for Switzerland. Being a member of the I P A, I knew that if I had any problems I would only need to contact the local police to get help. My journey was 640 miles through Belgium, Holland, Germany to Switzerland. Crossing the border from Germany into Switzerland at about 6.00am I found that there was a queue of about a kilometre. It took 25hrs from start to finish including stops and 7 hrs ferry crossing. I had a very pleasant holiday at a campsite at Merlischachen near Luzern, and toured around central Switzerland. On the ferry going home I met a big Dutchman who was asking if anyone knew the route from Felixtowe to the M1. I said that I lived on that route and if he would wait for me the other side of customs I would show him the way. When I cleared customs I found that there were about a dozen Dutch and Belgian riders waiting for me, I led the convoy home, booked them into a campsite, got them to fill up with petrol and provided them with milk. The big Dutchman was Jo den Tuinder, who has been a close friend ever since.
I remained divorced for many years, and eventually re-married in 1979. My Best Man at the wedding was Jo den Tuinder from Eindhoven, Holland. Several Dutch friends attended our wedding. In the 1980's my wife and I travelled many times to Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and France. I was now working for British Telecomm which I left in 1987 having been offered a good deal on redundancy which I took and started my own business in decorating, from which I finally retired in 1994. In October 1987 I started a local subgroup of the Sinclair QL computer group QUANTA. It is still in existence in 2000. This led to many trips to computer workshops in England, Belgium and Germany. After the QL, I used an Amiga with a QL Emulator on it to keep my hand in. The QL is still the easiest computer to use for programming, owing to its streamlined SuperBasic language. The Traffic Master system which is in use for drivers to avoid traffic hold-ups had its software written on the Sinclair QL. We were told about the Traffic Master some months before it came on the market. I now use a PC which I built myself, the QL having given me confidence to do this.
I joined the Camping and Caravanning Club (formerly the Camping Club) again in 1993 as we had bought a second-hand caravan. We had used the caravan for just over a year when I had the misfortune to catch the nearside wheel in a roadside drainage grip and wrecked the rear corner. I decided to buy a frame tent for the 1994 season and used the caravan chassis to build a trailer. We camped most weekends and had two holidays one in Scotland, in the Grampians, and the other in Devon and Cornwall. When we were in Scotland we took our granddaughter with us touring around the Grampians and Cairngorms. Although she lives in Morayshire we were able to take her to a lot of places she had not seen.
In the winter of 1994/5 I decided that it would be better to have a trailer tent or folding camper. I drew up several designs on my computer with the program X-Cad. They were all designed to utilise the chassis of a Thompson Mini-Glen caravan which we had. We made a final decision on which design to use and I started work in February. It was completed in March (on my birthday). The body was 18 inches shorter than the caravan but when opened up it was three feet longer, the caravan was a two berth but the camper was a four berth. It has all the same fittings plus a fridge.
My step daughter also joined the club in 1995 so that she could join us with her family on our holiday in the Highlands, when we were taking our other grandchildren with us. We finished up as four adults and five children with a folding camper and three tents. A site which we like in Scotland is the one at Mr Elder's Barley Mill Farm at Brodie, which is by Brodie Castle and near Cawdor Castle. We camped there in 1994 and 1995, when we camped with the Grampian and North East Scotland DA. One regular booking is the Manea Gala held on the second Saturday in July, when we camp with the Fenland Dist. Assn. As we now had a folding camper (trailer tent) we joined the North London and Eastern Counties Trailer Tent Group of the Camping Club.
In December 1995 we drove to Kinloss, Morayshire to spend Christmas with my stepdaughter and her family. There was snow all over Scotland and Northern England. The return journey was made in frosty conditions down to minus 14 degrees centigrade although the roads were clear. It was foggy in Northumberland and North Yorkshire but we covered 544 miles in 12 hours 40 mins an average of 42.9mph (the car was a Lada Riva 1300cc).
The first Saturday in 1996 was the date for the annual clan gathering of the Short/Rowell family. This happens every year and the extended family of the Shorts are all invited. Mrs Ethel Short was my father's sister. There are well over a hundred who attend the gathering with several generations present.
In the summer of 1996 I bought a lightweight tent (Richmond Spartan 2000). It is of the 'chalet' type which can sleep four and has about 5½ ft headroom. I now use this if I am camping alone, as I can carry the complete kit in the boot of the car. In June 1997 I bought a dome tent large enough for three, to add to the ridge tent that the Grandchildren use.
In May and June 1995, I went to work for the Cambridge University Examinations Board. The job consisted of checking the examination room beforehand, checking the students in, being available for the invigilator and to escort any student who wants to use the toilet. After the examination, to check the room and replace supplies of paper etc. Much of the time is spent sitting outside the doors waiting and reading a book. It looks as though I shall do this until I am no longer fit enough to carry out the duties.
Looking back on my life, I do not regret any of the jobs
which I have done, I have been lucky in that I have only been unemployed for
seven weeks, due to the hospital board failing to tell me that I had to have a
medical examination before I could be employed, which caused a seven day
hold-up. I also had a short period when I had to wait for about six weeks to
qualify for the Enterprise Allowance to start a business. I was not allowed to
work, but the government paid me just the same. About five months before I was
due to retire I went sick with osteo-arthritis in my left hip, my doctor said I
would remain on the sick-list until I retired. So far I have enjoyed my
retirement but there are times, usually in the winter, when I find that time
does drag. The summer is taken up with camping some weekends and cycling
others, it makes a change to be away from home. During the winter I do a lot of
cycling with the club. <
Since writing the
foregoing article, I had a hip replacement operation at Addenbrookes Hospital
in Cambridge, which was very successful (March 1999). I had returned to cycling
over a year before I had the operation and had gradually extended the distance
from the first ride of 8 miles to a maximum of 87 miles in a day (I could only
walk about 1.5 miles with difficulty). 25 days after the operation I was
allowed to start cycling again although I was not allowed to drive for about 50
days. My local Physio-therapist said that the cycling had probably helped by
toughening up my muscles. After I started cycling again I planned to do a
sponsored cycle-camping tour. I first tried to plan a tour from
Weston-super-mare to the Wash about 240 miles, this proved to be impractical as
there was no reasonable way that I could get the equipment transported to
Weston. I settled for a circular tour of East Anglia which covered 315 miles in
10 days (the camping and personal equipment weighed 40lbs. 18.18 Kgs.). In June
2000 I led a club party on a cycle-camping tour to the York Rally and