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BRIDGE VOICES

JEREMY SATHERLEY'S REMINISCENCES OF SUTTON BRIDGE
Featuring: 'JERRY OONDER THE BED'
Boyhood memories of 1950s Sutton Bridge

© Jeremy Satherley, 1997 - Reproduced by Bridge Watch with author's permisssion.


 

Introduction to Jeremy Satherley

Jeremy Satherley is the author of Jerry Oonder the Bed (1998), which is an account of his boyhood memories in 1950s Sutton Bridge. He was born in The Hague, Holland in 1948, during his RAF father’s attachment as Adviser to the Dutch Air Force, and was christened in 1949 at St Matthew’s Church, Sutton Bridge. Jeremy’s grandmother, Annie Amos, lived at 15 Queen Street and during the Fifties Jeremy’s family lodged twice at Annie’s house while waiting for a married quarters vacancy at his father Geoffrey’s next posting.

On the second occasion, during 1956/7, Jeremy stayed in Sutton Bridge long enough for him to attend Sutton Bridge School in Mrs Motley’s class. He also spent several of his school holidays with his grandmother, and at an impressionable age accumulated many pleasant memories of the village, as it then was. Regular visits to Sutton Bridge continued into the 1980s, and on returning to South Lincolnshire in 1995 after a career in Norfolk, London and Scotland, Jeremy decided it was an appropriate time to record his memories, before they faded, in Jerry Oonder the Bed (a name the school kids teased him with).

The account below —The Post Office Girl— is one he wrote in 1999 for The Bridge parish magazine. When his mother, Trissie, went into residential care at Nene Lodge in 1997, Jeremy was sorting through the prolific memorabilia hoarded in her Norwich house and came across a 1930s Cadbury’s Milk Tray box, which was full of letters to her from young airmen stationed at RAF Sutton Bridge, during her time as a post office counter clerk on Church Terrace in the early Thirties.

Jeremy has kindly given permission to Bridgewatch to publish excerpts from some of them on its website. So from time to time, we shall be uploading stories he has written as well as his documented memories in Jerry Oonder the bed and a letter his mother wrote to the Lincolnshire Free Press with her own recollections of life in Sutton Bridge before and during the War.

THE POST OFFICE GIRL
- by her son, Jeremy Satherley

[Trissie Timby (1912-2004) was the daughter of Annie Timby (née Dakin, 1888-1972, originally of Bridge Road living in a house opposite St Matthew’s Church). Trissie’s father, Reuben, was an M&GN railwayman whose family hailed from the West Lighthouse. He died aged 31 during the 1918 flu epidemic, leaving Annie to raise a young daughter while working respectively in a shoe shop (next door to the present antique shop) and as housekeeper to Mrs Dawes in Little Sutton. Annie finally became a housewife again on remarrying —to builder Horace Amos— and moved to Queen Street. Horace unfortunately died in an accident at Travis & Arnold’s sawmill during the war, whereupon Jeremy’s grandmother became housekeeper to farmer Fred Sole in New Road.

On leaving Spalding High School in 1928, Trissie worked for a short time in Cricklewood, London, before returning to work at the Sutton Bridge Co-op and then at the post office, where she became a magnet for young airmen from RAF Sutton Bridge. The airman she eventually married at Grantham in 1935 was Jeremy’s father, Geoffrey.]


Trissie on holiday in Hunstanton, 1933

 

Sometime in the early 1930s, after one of Trissie’s boyfriends had been sacked from the Co-op for playing cards in the basement, the young lady shop assistant decided it was time that she, too, should consider a change of career. So she went to work for Bill Humphries at his post office at the end of Church Terrace. She said her employer, Mr H, didn’t believe in spending money until it was absolutely necessary: a hole in the floor behind the counter was bridged with an old enamel sign. No health and safety concerns then!


Biff Wildman, a serious contender, who wrote many letters

It wasn’t the sort of job that allowed a low profile. Village commercial life had taken an upturn since the opening of RAF Sutton Bridge in 1926. From that windswept site across the river, where the power station now rears its twin heads, would come a daily influx of lads in blue uniforms in search of cinema, dance hall, shops...and the post office, where the aeronautical grapevine had detected a certain 20-year old Miss T. dispensing stamps for their letters home.

She was soon being asked for dates and there was no time to lose. After all, the gunnery courses at the camp only lasted six weeks. After that, the men returned to their bases or next postings. So notes of invitation came in thick and fast. Some were simple affairs in pencil; others, literary and calligraphic masterpieces, either handed in over the counter by colleagues if the Dutch courage wasn’t there, or in person if it was. Here is a typical approach:

‘RAF No 3 Armament Training Camp, Signals Section, Sutton Bridge,
10 Sep 1932.

Dear T., I propose visiting the local cinema, and would be exceedingly glad of your company. Should you decide to confer it upon me, please give me a ring at five minutes to twelve. I shall endeavour to answer the phone in person.

Yours sincerely

Ronald’

Then there was Ted, who had obviously put a foot wrong somehow, and was anxious to make amends:

‘The picture is incomplete. One thing more I require to fill my cup of happiness, and that is the olive branch. Will you proffer it?’

Not that Miss T. was always blameless herself. When she stood up Corporal Leo Kenny in March 1933, she incurred some elegant sarcasm:

‘It was so nice of you to turn up on Sunday. I hope you enjoyed yourself. I had a ripping time, wandering about on my own...I must confess, up till that moment, you stood very high in my opinion, and I should welcome your assurance that I have not been mistaken, or that my confidence in you has not been misplaced.’


Cpl Leo Kenny’s letter

About a month later, however, Leo retreated, defeated by what he called ‘the constant stream of worshippers at the shrine of beauty’.

One wonders how many rookie airmen—or average youths in general for that matter—could express themselves so eloquently in today’s text-speak?

Congratulations, Ronald, Ted, Leo and many others—you were masters of a now virtually extinct craft!

The Bridge, May 1999


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WARTIME MEMORIES

The following letter was written to the Lincolnshire Free Press in 1986, in response to a piece that had appeared in that paper in January entitled ‘Airfield of Memories’. The writer was the late Mrs Trissie Satherley (1912-2004), daughter of Annie Amos (1888-1972) of 15 Queen Street.

Wartime memories of Sutton Bridge

I was very interested in your article entitled ‘Airfield of Memories’ (recollections of Sutton Bridge airfield) which appeared in the Lincolnshire Free Press in January, since I have an identical photograph to the one which accompanied it.

I too met my husband when he came with a visiting squadron to the practice camp in those early days, subsequently turning up on our doorstep every weekend thereafter until I finally put him out of his misery and married him.

As your contributors have said, the camp breathed new life into the village and put it on the map.

Masses of smart, blue-uniformed swains swarmed over the bridge and into the village every evening from about 6.30, heading for the pubs and dance halls, their legs tightly encased in puttees and their feet in highly-polished boots in the early days.

The main dance hall at this time was the Oddfellows Hall which later became the cinema and finally the restaurant which was destroyed by fire a few years ago. A veritable mecca of a dance hall this was, large and spacious with a beautiful floor. The band was almost always the RAF band formed by members of the permanent staff. This was a really first-class band, complete with a crooner who sang through a loudspeaker. Waltzes were played with the lights turned low and coloured lighting effects. Many a romance was born on these occasions. The entrance fee was one shilling, now known as five pence. At 16 [back in the late 1920s] one could hardly wait to get home from school and out of uniform to get there!


Invitation tickets for dances 1932/3

Later when this hall became a cinema, the dances were held in the Conservative Hall which was considerably smaller, so when the war brought the allied forces and our army contingent to the camp, the atmosphere became somewhat stifling. The hall was filled to such high capacity that the walls almost bulged and one could almost see the damp rising from steaming battledress uniforms. Thus it became internationally known as ‘The Sweat Box’, and not the Sweet Box as stated in your article.

One’s dancing expertise improved enormously after Strauss waltzing with the Poles, tangoing with the French, jiving with the Yanks, and Palais Gliding, Hokey-cokeying and Lambeth Walking with the whole cosmopolitan lot of them. For many of us it was a pleasant diversion and a way of allaying the suspense we were living through.

Almost every household had airmen billeted on them. My own mother had at one time a Canadian pilot who would pass on Laura Secord chocolates and Sweet Caporal cigarettes to me when his parcels came from home.


The reverse of a Sweet Caporal cigarette packet, showing aircraft recognition illustrations

My husband was posted to the Middle East at the beginning of the war. He was a bomber pilot and one worried all the time, as often there was no news for weeks. I had a small daughter and could not take a job, so I became a member of the WVS [Women’s Voluntary Service] and helped to run the service canteen.

Just before the war ended my husband returned and was stationed at Sutton Bridge, where he was often required to go out and recover bodies from the Wash.

Some of the famous pilots (perhaps less heard of nowadays) stationed there then included Air Commodore Archie Winskill, who became Captain of the Queen’s Flight, and Group Captain Stanford Tuck, who after the war became a great friend of the high-ranking German officer he shot down, also a famous air ace.

The ceiling of the bar in the officers’ mess bore the footprints and signatures of the famous pilots who had passed through the station, as was the custom on all fighter stations. The procedure was to pile up chairs and settees and stand on their heads to achieve the footprints. One wonders what happened to the ceiling when the building was demolished. It still existed after the station was officially closed down in 1945, when my husband was posted from Catfoss to Shinfield Park. We were allotted one of the two officers’ married quarters at Sutton Bridge, there being no available quarter at Shinfield Park.

This meant that except for weekends, my small daughter and I lived alone on what had virtually become a ghost station. It gave one an eerie feeling, almost of the supernatural, to walk between the deserted buildings, trying to make oneself believe so much vital activity had taken place here.

The two officers’ married quarters, originally built for the CO and the Medical Officer, were situated at the left back of the large hangar and it is doubtful if they existed at the time the photograph was taken. The Warrant Officer, NCOs’ and airmen’s married quarters were built in Chalk Lane, of course.

Incidentally the gunnery school moved to Catfoss from Sutton Bridge, and not Kirton-in-Lindsey as was stated in your article. This was during the period that my husband was stationed with the unit, and we moved up with them.

I’m sure there are many ex-RAF people still living in Sutton Bridge who miss the RAF as much as we do. Two names missing in your article were Flt Lt Jack Flint who married Evelyn Stone, and Flt Lt Jack Brazier (married to Phyllis?). Joyce and Rita Goodger, who both married pilots, left the village. My cousin Joan Lawson married Arthur Edgley, an air gunner who became a prisoner of war and now farms at Lutton Marsh.

It was a sad day when the station closed but it is nostalgic to look back on those hectic days, and very sad to see the rows of crosses in the churchyard, marking the graves of those who can no longer do so. The memorial chapel in the church will remind us of them always.


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"JERRY OONDER THE BED"

Memories of 1950s Sutton Bridge - By a kid passing through

Jeremy Satherley writes:

‘After writing Jerry Oonder the Bed in 1997/8, I was surprised and delighted to have sold about 500 copies, mainly through Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton Libraries. However, I little thought that it would arouse any further interest until 15 years later, Bridgewatch approached me out of the blue with a request to reproduce one of the book’s illustrations. One thing led to another, as it often does, resulting in a kind invitation to put Jerry Oonder the Bed in its entirety onto Bridgewatch.

‘So here goes. Please bear in mind that it was written some time ago now, so certain things I referred to as current in the late 90s will have changed. But the sentiments I expressed at the time remain as strong as ever.’

'Beg pardon?'

The rotund figure leaned forward in the long-suffering armchair, so that its seat sagged down to the floor.

'Walton!' the old woman sitting opposite him repeated. 'Walton, the milkman!'

'No, not 'im. You know, 'im as...'

He jerked a thumb backwards, as if the man he wanted were in the shrubbery outside.

'IT'LL BE WALTON, I KNOW!' shouted my grandmother with unnecessary vigour. She turned to me with an aside: 'I do 'ate when I've to shout.'

As the 1950s summer evening in New Road, Sutton Bridge wore on, it was getting past the time to switch on the lights. The sun was sinking fast, straining its last efforts through the stained-glass pineapples in the living room fanlights. Only a weak patch of light left on the red-and-blue Turkish-pattern carpet now, as other familiar objects faded into the gloom. No longer could one read the caption Dear Old Home Goodbye to the Victorian print on the wall, of a Regency buck enticing his ladylove away from the gates of her family seat. Only a faint glimmer reflected from the silver tureen and a cluster of crystal tumblers standing on the massive mahogany sideboard.

It was to these that Fred Sole now turned. 'What’ll yer have, Mrs Amos?'

'Whisky n' soda, please, but not too strong. It'll go to me legs.'

Fred brandished an empty siphon in my direction. 'Jeremy, go you and get me another of these,' he ordered with a smiling, pink face.

Nine years old and eager to please, I scurried off on my journey down the dark Victorian hallway with its multicoloured glass lampshade, bedecked in my imagination with emeralds and rubies. Past the sombre, flag-paved conservatory and down brass-edged steps to the billiard room, where ranks of bottles awaited in brewer's wooden crates.

Soon it would be suppertime, with the three of us assembled under the single light bulb of a vast kitchen, its wooden panelling painted from floor to ceiling in two shades of green.

There'd be ham-on-the-bone, tomato, haslet or cold Lincolnshire sausage and chicken to eat while Fred brought Gran up to date with national and local current affairs. At half past eight, it would be time to go across to Gran's house to bed, listening to the chimes of St Matthew's church clock and looking forward to the pleasures of the next summer morning.

It was good to have been born just in time to remember this tail-end of an old-fashioned provincial life, characterised by unquestioned routine, friendly discipline, a lesser preoccupation with self-image, and more time for one's neighbour. All typical hallmarks of staying or living in Sutton Bridge, and why, often to the amazement of those who expect nothing less than mountain ranges, valleys, forests or Cotswold stone to enliven their landscapes, 'The Bridge' retains a place in my affections, no matter how much it's changed since.

While I couldn't conform less to the image of South Lincolnshire man, having neither the patience to grow veg in serried ranks, nor the ability of a competent handyman, I can claim certain roots in Sutton Bridge. My maternal grandmother, Annie Amos (née Dakin), was raised in a house opposite St Matthew's Church, while her first husband, Reuben, who died in 1918, was one of the Timby family, who for many years lived in the West Lighthouse at the mouth of the Nene.

My father served in the RAF, which is how he came to meet my mother in the early 1930s, while stationed at the camp which was then part of the Potato Marketing Board's land, now the Wingland Enterprise Park. From then on, no matter where the family was moved, it always contrived to stop off between postings at my grandmother's house in Sutton Bridge. Sometimes for weeks, other times for months; occasionally, even years.

'The Bridge' made its strongest impression on me between the ages of eight and ten in the mid-1950s. Rather than strive for highly-researched factual accuracy, the object has been to give a light-hearted account of the surroundings as I saw and understood them at the time. To those kind people I mention, many of whom are now gone but who indulged and tolerated me as a child, it's my way of saying thanks for the memory. You are gratefully remembered.


Jerry & his grandmother, Mrs Amos, near the East Lighthouse


Jerry as a boy beyond the East Lighthouse at the approach to the sea wall, having just returned from a trek across the oozing mud with his Great Uncle, Frederick Dakin. Start-rite sandals having proved unsuitable for this outing, he had borrowed a pair of Fred Sole’s old shoes, although they kept coming off in the mud!


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15 QUEEN STREET

When Gran was unfortunately widowed for the second time during the last war, she was living in a rented house in Queen Street, and until she was able to buy it from the landlord for £300 in 1958, such outgoings couldn't take care of themselves. Luckily, she didn't have to look far for an income. Fred Sole, a recently widowed farmer who lived around the corner in New Road, needed a housekeeper.

It was a live-in arrangement, so 15 Queen Street became a house she only occasionally used. Instead, it became her busman's holiday. Every day for nearly thirty years, she'd go across to dust it, polish it and every so often, lay a minefield of stone hot water bottles in the beds to air them.

Resources were frugally used; a wartime packet of Lux soap flakes remained on the kitchen windowsill until well into the 1960s. As a child I stayed at Queen Street many times during school holidays and lived there twice while the family awaited vacant RAF married quarters in Blackpool and later on, Newark. In 1957, the pull of the place was so strong after a three-week holiday there that I had to be forced tearfully into the car. As we headed off for Newark along the long straight towards Long Sutton, I looked longingly out of the back window of the car until the flashing zebra crossing beacons opposite the school had vanished into the horizon.

But why this attachment? The house was actually quite primitive, if not by the standards of the street, then certainly by the expectations of the 1950s. The only tap was at the bottom of the garden. There was no kitchen sink, and the lavatory was an earth closet in the back yard. We'd just come back from Belgium and after the facilities of the Brussels flat, with its central heating, spacious rooms and balconies, I had every reason to hate the place. Yet 15 Queen Street had a charm that overcame its lack of amenities.

It became the yardstick by which I was to judge all future houses for homeliness, intimacy and comfort. As a second turning to the left off New Road, Queen Street began unpretentiously with a large cabbage patch on the left -now occupied by 17 and 19 New Road—which extended as far as Madge Wright's bungalow. But after 50 yards or so, the street took itself seriously with a terrace on either side of small Victorian houses, the front doors of which opened straight onto the pavement. These dwellings had been built around 1879 to house dock workers at a weekly rent of 2/6 (12p), with the land owned by Cross Bros of Long Sutton. By the 1950s many of the residents worked either for the railway or Travis & Arnold's sawmill.

Before the era of upvc windows, stone cladding and satellite dishes, the only feature which distinguished one frontage from another occasionally, was the colour scheme of the window frames and front doors. Otherwise, the houses were all exactly the same, apart from the larger downstairs front windows at No.s 1 and 2, which suggested a previous commercial use: indeed, it's fairly certain that No.l was a shoe-menders at one time. And if the roof tiles tended to blow off more easily from the even-numbered houses opposite, it was because the builders were reputed to have run out of galvanised nails before the job was finished!

Unless the occupant had converted one of the back bedrooms into a bathroom, each property was a three up and three down, with an outside toilet built in unit with a coalhouse, and a reasonably long plot at the back. Here the man of the house would inevitably have an orderly row of vegetables, or at least a shed or two in which to store, make or mend a lot of useful things. Nobody had yet resorted to asphalting or paving over the whole back garden as a car space. Few people in the street owned vehicles then; those who did positioned their garage right at the bottom of the garden.


My mother behind the tin shed

From the New Road end, my grandmother's house was positioned about mid-terrace on the left, with front door and windows picked out in a daring brown and cream. You stepped immediately into a front room 'kept for best', smelling of fresh paint, new pink wool carpet, and lavender wax polish. This you passed through quickly, for fear of polluting it. A pity, for the attractive Victorian grate, flanked by alcoves and half-cupboards, and the original fingerplate on the back of the front door, depicting in semi-relief a substantial classical female, were worth a second look.

The next door, harnessed to the usual draught-excluding curtain, made a typically metallic moaning noise as it opened onto a small, square living room. This was the nerve centre of our life at Queen Street. Here all meals were taken, radio programmes listened to, washing dried, decisions made and quarrels brewed.  It was dominated by a round pedestal table, surrounded by a set of chairs with wing-motif backs, upholstered in rexine or brown floral tapestry material. The original fireplace had been replaced by a bland affair in fawn and cream tiling, at a time when junking Victoriana was considered an improvement. Nevertheless, its replacement was constantly in use, making toast and boiling a piebald kettle which was indelibly blackened on one side, but lovingly polished on the other.


The living room

To the right of the hearth was an original built-in cupboard, painted, not surprisingly, in brown and cream. Housed in its lower half was a mound of mainly wartime knitting patterns, exhorting you to click a patriotic needle for the lads abroad in need of gloves and socks. The upper area contained crockery and also exuded a pleasantly sweet smell: the result of many years' closeting there of chocolate biscuits in a battered Quality Street tin.

In the left corner next to the fireplace was a small, black hexagonal table of the Great War period which supported the radio. This was of 1930's origin, tall, dark brown and gothic in both appearance and temperament. My sister Juliet, eleven years older, set a bad example by demonstrating how to cut off Sandy Macpherson at the Organ with a hefty stamp on the floor. Gran was less impressed when she caught Juliet in the act one day, after which the radio was promptly replaced by a new Cossor set from Normans electrical shop. A squatter, bakelite affair in mock walnut, its dial was crammed with exciting names like Sottens, Hilversum and Allouis which lit up in luminous green when the set was switched on. It was a welcome relief after being bullied on a weekday evening to rush in and catch Children's Hour and the next tear-jerking episode of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or The Wind in the Willows read by David Davis in his oozingly comfortable voice.

While absorbed in such teatime epics, I afterwards found that a full plate of sandwiches had miraculously become an empty one. Another trick of Juliet's: she'd discovered that loosening the boss under the table's pedestal allowed the top to revolve one full circle.

ChiffonierThis, too, infuriated Gran, although it was easily enough remedied, unlike the affair of the chiffonier. An attractive piece, it stood in serpentine-fronted glory at the back of the room.

Out of harm's way, you might think, except that at the age of four, I managed to kick one of the doors in at a drunken angle. This threw my mother into a panic, as Gran was due over in a couple of hours.

But help was never far away in a place like Sutton Bridge. In no time at all, the bush telegraph would locate a ministering angel in flat cap and blue overalls to come and fix the thing for a trifling sum like 10/6 (53p).

Unfortunately, while the response was prompt enough, Gran turned up in the middle of the repair work, which meant confessing all. But considering the cost of emergency call-out fees today, it was still an impressive effort!

Beyond the living room yet another cream-and-brown door led into a short passage accessing the staircase, larder and kitchen. People wonder nowadays how the older generation could ever have managed without a fridge or freezer, but what they didn't have, they didn't miss. In any case, the larder was so well positioned that keeping a realistic stock of food presented no problems. Storage was a large cupboard under the stairs, its miniscule window looking out onto a sunless back yard. Milk, butter and eggs stayed fresh for days on marble-slab ledges, with meat kept safely from flies in a large, square safe with a mesh door.

The kitchen, or scullery as Gran called it, was not only as cold and dark, but for non-masochists, devoid of nearly all basic essentials. True, there was a copper positioned across one corner in which to do the washing, fronted by a waist-high brick wall and an opening at the bottom for lighting its fire. And yes, there was a gas cooker, ancient, smelly and a nightmare to keep clean. But that was all. No sink, and no running water -not until 1958 at any rate, when Gran's stepson Reg brought us into the space age with a cream enamel sink unit with taps and a geyser. A single-fronted wardrobe served as home for the saucepans, and there was just a solitary enamel bowl on a table top for washing in.


The backyard

To fill it you had to go to the back gate, where there was a tap housed in a wooden box which doubled as an earwig nest. There was a nearer alternative, but it was jealously guarded by my mother. This was a nine-foot-deep well under a manhole cover in the back yard, which collected drain-piped rainwater off the roof. Apparently it offered the ideal softness for washing hair; each precious bucketful excused the smuts and pieces of moss it inevitably yielded.

Having undergone the heroics of obtaining the water, it would be boiled in a kettle for a swill of the face, after which, if it was that time of day, it was upstairs to bed for me. The bedrooms were all of useful size. Two of them could take a double bed, particularly the one at the front which, with its murky khaki-and-orange wallpaper, looming wardrobe and forbidding-looking bed frame was curiously inviting in its fustiness. Perhaps this was because in my world of ever-changing schools and houses, here was a place with surroundings that never altered.

My own room was the smallest one, at the top of the stairs. On the surface it had little to attract an eight-year-old, but its cosiness was soon appreciated. The bed frame had almost assumed the shape of a parallelogram and creaked and rattled. But oh, the numbing comfort of its feather mattress as I sank into it at night among the stone hot water bottles and their singing corks!

I would settle down and listen to the sounds around me. The muffled tones of the radio downstairs -or next door's, as the communal back yards amplified the din; the groan of the living room door as adults came and went, or the muted chimes of St Matthew's Church, ringing out the hour slowly and reassuringly.

New sounds came with the morning. A tardy, hoarse cock crowing in a nearby garden: too late to awaken Lincolnshire folk, already going about their business to a chorus of:

'Are yew orl roite?

or,

'Owdo, mate!'

And over the back of beyond, the railway sidings were coming to life, as steam engines with clanking connecting rods clashed into lines of squealing trucks, then paused for breath, hissing and wheezing to themselves before the next onslaught.

As the room grew lighter through gauze-like curtains, familiar objects presented themselves. To the left of the bed was forbidden territory, like the Berlin Wall. It was curtained off to conceal shapeless parcels of long-forgotten clothing: hardly exciting. Nor did the old doll's house in the window corner hold much appeal, although I did attempt to make this soppy girl's thing more masculine by sticking a picture of a Vauxhall Wyvern on its roof. But more intriguing was the cream-gloss-painted chest of drawers. Two-thirds full of fancy soaps in their gift boxes, it was Gran's way of disposing of years of well-meant present-giving by friends and neighbours. Various correspondence was also kept there, going back 40 years.

One letter, elaborately lithographed with a steam locomotive letterhead, was of mild historical interest. It was a message of condolence from the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway management, expressing deepest sympathy over my grandfather's death in 1918.

But on a lighter note, in the second drawer down, was my favourite piece of literature: the Daily Express Film Book for 1935. On every visit I spent hours gazing fascinated at each colour page of yesterday's stars. It made me a mine of useless information. What other child, even in the 1950s, would have known or cared about Ralph Lynn, Tom Walls, Benita Hume or Yvonne Arnaud? Yet I knew all about 'Getting into Pictures', thanks to Jack Buchanan's advice, and could have told anyone who stopped me in Bridge Road that Elisabeth Bergner was married to director Paul Czinner, or that John Mills made a successful debut as 'juvenile lead' in The Midshipmaid, with Jessie Matthews.

This and a very fine purple-bound pair of volumes commemorating George V's reign with silver-tinted photos, occupied me until an adult got up to start my day. If I was staying for a holiday without parents, Gran slept over at Queen Street and would be raring to go with nervous energy at 7am. There was no idling for this seventy-year-old. After a quick cup of tea, she'd be off round the corner to get Fred his breakfast.

'Don't be later than ten to eight,' she'd say. 'We mustn't keep Mr Sole waitin'.'

The day at Balgownie had begun.


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BALGOWNIE AND FRED

BALGOWNIE. The name was emblazoned in gold-leaf capitals over the front door of what was then No.43, New Road. It is now number 29 after the road was renumbered.

Very much an individual of a building, Balgownie had the identity of a detached house. Yet it formed the end of a short terrace of nineteenth-century dwellings which began on the Queen Street corner opposite the cabbage patch. Enveloped from footing to gable in the clutches of a red vine creeper, it boasted three storeys, a second-floor balcony and stained-glass panes to its bay windows. Inside were 15 rooms, which included an indoor conservatory with its own skylight, large maidenhair fern and underground well.

In common with some other local properties, it had escaped the wartime requisitioning of garden railings. Its own green cast-iron examples, featuring ecclesiastical-looking fleur-de-lis shapes, had survived intact apart from a corroded curlicue here and there.

The crates of soda siphons and pale ale referred to elsewhere were delivered to a tradesman's entrance, reached through a formal side garden laid with pink gravel paths and wooden border edging. Also much in evidence at the side was a nineteenth-century timbered extension with a pitched roof, which housed the billiard room. It represented the division between front and rear gardens, reached by passing through a gate in a substantial lattice fence. It was to this rear garden I would come in time for the ten-to-eight breakfast rendezvous, entering through a gate in the high back fence, and running up the asphalted path through the rose trees and brick outhouses to the green kitchen door.

Anyone entering the garden this way for the first time would be taken aback as soon as they set foot on the path. For there, in the middle of a perfectly-kept lawn bearing the stripes of the mower's roller was one of the largest television aerials you ever saw. Rising like a clipper's mainmast to a height of some 60 feet, it was secured to the ground by a series of thick cables.

There was good reason for such a superstructure. Balgownie had been one of the first houses in the village to have TV, but South Lincolnshire had long been dubbed 'Television's no man's land.' The area around Peterborough and Spalding lay inconveniently between the Pennines, the Cheviot Hills and the Cotswolds, thus reducing signal strengths from the Holme Moss and Sutton Coldfield transmitters.

But back to the house itself. The strongest appeal of Balgownie was its originality. Not just in its appearance and the appliances used, but in the way it was run. The bathroom, for instance, positioned at the turn of a solid pine staircase—reputed to have cost £100 when installed—had piped water to the lion-footed bath, but no washbasin. Instead, Gran would appear daily with an enamel bowl of hot water and place it on top of a wrought-iron stand. This was for Fred's shave with plenty of lather and a brush, his back to a window pane decorated with beautifully-painted bird scenes, of blackbirds and thrushes consorting among the primroses.

Meanwhile, down in the large, wood-panelled kitchen, breakfast would be sizzling away on the Rayburn, perhaps with some clothes drying on the wooden rack above it. Here the only concession to modern technology was a fridge, although this dated from the 1920s. Since when it had squeaked and chortled away to itself next to the door, its four solid legs supporting a cooling cabinet barely adequate for two days' rations. It was a curiosity even then, and Fred always vowed he would return it to Frigidaires for displaying in their museum.

The day began, appropriately enough, with a proper breakfast. At eight sharp, the sound of clumping feet would be heard advancing down the hall. Fred would enter, settle into his high-backed chair and tuck into a feast of fried egg and tomato with bacon and a Lincolnshire sausage or two, washed down with a large, willow-patterned cup of coffee.

Then in his mid-seventies, he owned a farm on the Norfolk side of the river, adjoining the old RAF station, and now part of the Potato Marketing Board's land. It was looked after by a manager, but Fred usually spent the morning and some of the afternoon overseeing matters on site, a routine broken only by trips to Lynn on market day, or the weekly visit to the Barclays Bank sub-branch opposite the Bridge Hotel to collect the men's wages.


Barclays Bank


Barclays Bank on the corner of Bridge Road almost opposite the Bridge Hotel c. 1950’s

Of medium height, with a fresh complexion and brilliantined white hair parted in the middle, Fred was always hospitable and generous. 'Go on, eat that up,' he'd say, knowing full well I'd devour any leftovers like a wolverine.

Breakfast over; he'd push back his chair with a word about lunch. 'Shall we have a bit o' pork today, Mrs Amos?' If it was Gran's shopping day, blue fivers would change hands before he set off for the farm, leaving by the front door and crossing to the garage opposite to get out the Rover 90.

During the morning I'd help with the washing up, scraping spuds, or chatting to Mrs Parker. This lady came in for a few hours a week to help with the housework, and was often to be found dusting the window ledge of the front bedroom, where she was well positioned to check out the movements of everyone in New Road. Mrs Parker was a flattering listener. Her conversation consisted of many obliging exclamations like 'Ooh, I say!' or 'Well, I never!' with a constant expression of wonderment, no matter what nonsense I might be talking at the time. I'd then skip off to check if the other upstairs rooms were as I'd remembered them from my last visit.

Gran's room would be on the first floor, smaller than Fred's and typically sparse, with only the bare essentials of bed, marble washstand, chest of drawers and wardrobe, all in a sombre but richly-grained wood. There was another flight of stairs to two more rooms at the top of the house. Their brass bedsteads dominated the modest floor areas with an impression of magnificent, eery spindliness. In an atmosphere of genteel neglect, wallpaper peeled in the cold, overwhelming silence, particularly in the front room, where an ill-fitting window had yielded to the tentacles of the vine creeper outside. This left matters exposed to the elements, and the occasional fluttering bird. But I suppose the state of this room was either a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,' or, 'if it ain't exactly broke, don't fix it'.

It was the same downstairs in the kitchen where, each time it rained, water came in through the skylight. For years, two buckets would be fetched to catch the drops, as if it were a perfectly normal routine to be followed without any possible alternative.

Certain electrical appliances were approached with caution. A 1930s cooker in pale blue enamel stood in the scullery, but was never used. It was reputed to have sent a few volts up Gran's arm on more than one occasion, so it was the trusty, coke-fuelled Rayburn in the main kitchen that performed all cooking tasks to perfection. Predictably, there was no vacuum cleaner: just a battered Ewbank Dainty carpet-sweeper. Pushing this around the expanses of flooring was like trying to trim the grass of a football pitch with the smallest hand mower. But doing the washing required the most effort of all, since this relied on a Victorian contraption called The Darling Washer.

Lurking in one of the outhouses, this misnomer must have been the prototype of all washing machines. Its four, splayed iron legs supported a rectangular zinc tub. This was covered by a hinged, wooden lid doubling as a mounting point for a tiller-like agitator, which, provided you were willing to 'Move lever back and forth 150 times', like it said on a metal plate, savaged the clothes into cleanliness. I complied with this religiously, long after the Fairy Snow had lost its foam, and turned the slimy water mid-grey.

The dripping Chilprufe combinations, Viyella shirts and socks safely pegged on the line, it would be back into the house again to look over more familiar haunts. Opposite the two stone sinks in the scullery was a huge worktop with a built-in cupboard. Roomy though it was, a recurring problem with mice prevented anything being kept in it. A trap with cheese had been put down, and highlight of the week was to slide open the door, to see if an unfortunate rodent had copped it.

More bountiful recesses awaited the onlooker in the walk-in scullery larder, where in season, two, floor-to-ceiling mesh safes were full to bursting with hanging pheasants. Nothing oven-ready, of course. It would be Gran's job to pluck them in a flurry of feathers, soiled newspapers and irritable remarks, the whole grisly spectacle exuding a smell like home perms.

The means to this end lay across the passage, where you stepped up into Fred's boot and gun room. Carpeted in coconut matting, it housed glass cabinets of guns, and wooden compartments containing solid footwear and shoe-cleaning materials. Unexpectedly among all this masculine paraphernalia, Gran stored her jars of jam, representing a relentless annual output labelled in her spidery little writing: 'Rasp. 1956',or 'Plum 1955', and so on.

As one o' clock approached, lunch was nearly ready. I helped by laying the table, which included placing a bottle of Worthington Pale Ale and an opener next to the master's plate, taking care not to have shaken it too much beforehand as I had done on one disastrous occasion. I'd then position myself at the front gate for a sighting of the Rover 90 turning right at Christian & Dobbs, and rush down the hall to tell Gran Fred was coming. If there were five or ten minutes in hand he would stop off in the lounge, scanning the Daily Mirror with a critical expression until I came to tell him everything was ready.

Once again, the familiar footstep would come clumping down the hall. Usually, he'd start by updating us on matters of the moment.

'Bridge were open,' he'd say, unfolding his napkin and motioning a thumb backwards. 'Traffic backed up more 'n a mile.'

This might be followed by a tidbit gleaned from the Mirror, occasionally enriched by a condemnation of some faraway uprising, such as, 'That there Lumbaba's been causin' trouble  again...' (referring to President Lumumba of the Congo).


Fred Sole: ‘that there Lumbaba!’

Lunch would then proceed, succulently. 'Take the rest o’ them greens, Jeremy, that’s it. I’ve never seen anyone eat like 'im!' he'd remark, as I ladled all the surplus food into my dish.

The meal over, Fred would retire to the lounge for a short nap.  By 2.30 he'd be on his way out again, leaving us to our washing up extravaganza, to be performed like the Darling Washer ritual with inactive Fairy Snow, hindered by a wringing wet tea cloth.

Afterwards, it was Gran's turn for a break. For an hour or so, she read the Free Press or Mirror at the kitchen table, chin raised to read the newsprint through the bottom of her bi-focals. Then, unless she had some twitchy knitting on the go, it would be time for ten minutes' shuteye.


Mrs Amos reading the paper after lunch

If this was too docile for me, I'd go off and explore Fred's kitchen garden across the road. In the summer months this was a wondrous jungle, with a mysterious path leading through asparagus and artichoke beds, blackcurrant bushes and apple trees to a high grassy bank at the end. Once, while I was playing there with Fred's grandson, Tim, we were suddenly stopped in our tracks by a shrill and very proper voice crying out.

'Little boys! Little boys!’

It was one of the Misses Hooton from the bungalow next door, probably Jessie, who played the church organ. She stood by the fence, ramrod straight and confrontational, like Edith Evans playing Lady Bracknell. What had we done?

'Would you like some apples?"

We breathed a sigh of relief at this most unexpected offer. Jessie rarely communicated with small fry, living reclusively in a bungalow almost totally obscured by mature shrubs and bushes. She emerged occasionally to ride her perpendicular bike with an air of detached serenity. To humour her we accepted the apples, although Fred had several trees of his own.

Once Gran resurfaced from her afternoon nap, we'd go over to check on 15 Queen Street. While she faffed around inside, I might offer to cut her grass -a rash gesture, as she had no lawn mower, so that after a few moments on my hands and knees with the shears, I'd be bored and bitterly regretting my initiative. But as the pumpkin hour of four o' clock approached, Gran's brow became anxious at the prospect of returning to Balgownie to get the tea. Selfishly, I always liked this part of the day, not just because of the fare, with its Kraft cheese slices and Lyons Choc Rolls in silver foil, but because it was also time for afternoon television to begin.

This was the apparatus which had demanded so much aerial space in the back garden, all for the sake of one BBC channel and a 14-inch screen. Although ITV had been introduced a year or two earlier, the lofty aerial wasn't equipped to receive it. However, I didn't have TV at home, so even watching the test card was a novelty. Eventually, after staring at an image of the spiky Crystal Palace mast to an endless rendering of Bobby Shaftoe or an Eric Coates march, patience would be rewarded with the first glimmers of Andy Pandy. And glimmers they were, for the picture never stayed in focus for long. Positioned in the dim recesses of an anteroom to the lounge, it was as if the set were in sympathy with its surroundings. Time and again, The Lone Ranger, Gilbert Harding and Tony Hancock all fizzled into obscurity till Gran gave in and adjusted the picture for the umpteenth time. What pleasure she got from watching TV I shall never know. Her allotted seating position placed her with her back to the set, so that she had to sit like a sleeping budgie to look at it.

Close by this historic TV was an even older radio. This must have been an expensive set in the late 1920s, as its bow front had twin speakers and it was operated by lifting a lid. On Saturdays, Fred always listened to it for the football results. In the early 1900s he'd been a keen footballer, as evidenced by his sepia-tinted team photo of Sutton Bridge FC, hanging in the billiard room.

The day over and supper a thing of the past by 8.30pm, it was time for Gran to take me back to Queen Street to bed. Balgownie and its quaint amenities had afforded a day of fascination, good food, a look at TV, and if it was that time of the week, a proper bath as well. No other house, with sights and sounds that can still be readily recalled, has left a stronger impression on my memory. Even now, as I turn into New Road and draw level with King Street, I imagine I can still see that comfortable, ruddy-faced figure in the distance, standing in Balgownie's bay window, watching the world go by with a smile and a nod, and all ready to say, 'C-o-me on in!'.


Fred Sole standing in the bay window of Balgownie.

‘Balgownie’ – taken by the author in 1997

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UNWILLINGLY TO SCHOOL

In October 1956 we returned from an air force posting in Belgium and while awaiting vacant quarters at RAF Winthorpe near Newark, my mother and I pitched camp at 15 Queen Street, to which my father returned at weekends.

We arrived well after the school term had started, so I hoped that the need to send me to school would be overlooked, at least until after Christmas. But it was not to be. Within a week, I found myself in Mrs Motley's class at Sutton Bridge Primary, and what an adjustment that was!


Local artist paints a ‘class’ on the old school as part of the Sutton Bridge in Bloom entry for the East Midlands in Bloom competition in July 2011

I may have had both a mother and grandmother raised in Sutton Bridge, but as far as some kids were concerned, that counted for nothing. I was an outsider and a curiosity. Worse, I was dubbed an upstart from a foreign country, who at eight years old was toffee-nosed enough to have learned joined-up handwriting with a dip pen and ink, while other classmates were still forming separate letters with a pencil.

I never volunteered the fact that I could speak French, as life was difficult enough as it was. From the moment I first opened my mouth, I was points down on street cred. I tried to fake a Lincolnshire accent once, in an attempt to escape a difficult crowd at the Bridge Road level crossing. But like Dick Van Dyke's attempt at Cockney in Mary Poppins, it all came out wrong, and my cover was blown.

Then there was the question of my name. When I tremulously replied to the question:

'Woss yer name, boy?'

from a jostling young male crowd out for mischief, they erupted into squeals of delighted laughter.

'Satherley’, they couldn't do a lot with, surprisingly. But 'Jeremy' was considered absolutely hilarious, and cissy as well.

'You're soppy, boy!'

was the unanimous verdict, uttered with curled lip and a punch. How I wished, at that moment, that I'd told them my name was Brian, Barry or Colin.

The nickname soon coined for me was 'Jerry-under-the-bed'. My usual response to this was a meek smile, partly to avoid a beating up, but mainly because I didn't know what it meant anyway. Having been abroad since the age of six, I had missed out on British slang, so it took ages before the penny dropped. Yet with so many homes still with outside toilets, the jerry was then an essential piece of equipment in the neighbourhood.

Jerry under the bed
If Jeremy’s Gran had had one of these, he would have known what the lads were teasing him about!

The school buildings on Bridge Road, built in 1865 and now one of only 22 of their type left in the country were eventually vacated in the mid-1980s. They were later rescued and sympathetically restored by John and Gail Baker as a training, resource and employment centre for community use, with tea and function rooms open to the public. (Unfortunately this venture only lasted for a few years and the building is no longer used for this purpose.)

Its previous spell of boarded-up emptiness and overgrown trees made an odd contrast to the noisy activity that once went on within its walls. My six months there have left me with a disjointed jumble of memories. Like the girl reading poetry about the seasons with an aspirant hHapril brings the blossoms sweet', and so forth; queuing up on Mondays to buy another two-and-sixpenny (12½p) savings stamp with its picture of an infant Prince Charles; or witnessing a girl being told off by Mrs Motley for cutting the school concert to watch David Copperfield on TV. That tells us something about the novelty value television still had for us, then: how many kids today would willingly stay in for an episode of Dickens screened in fuzzy, 405-line, in black-and-white?

Children's names come drifting back over the years: Pat Trayford, Michael Limbert, Susan Kingston, John Richardson, Juliet Friendship, Michael Hattigan, Brian Wright, John Harrison, Michael Almey, Peter Sorrell, Maureen Halvey, Irene Phillippo, Beatrice Hodge, and Patricia Oldham, for instance.

[Perhaps some of the pupils mentioned above might recognise themselves and be willing to contact Bridgewatch with their reminiscences. If so please get in touch via info@bridgewatch.org.uk]

Trainers, tracksuits, and Umbro bags and sweatshirts were many years away in the future. It was the era of woolly cardigans, high-necked pullovers, corduroy shorts, hair ribbons, cotton frocks and Startrite sandles. Patricia Oldham, however, had succumbed to the contemporary craze for luminous green socks.

I entertained her once to some show-off bike riding in front of her lounge window in Princes Street. Considering that the bike was about three sizes too small for me, had solid tyres and rejoiced in the macho name of Fairy Cycle, the spectacle must have been too ludicrous to contemplate.

In my Belgian school, it had been a national characteristic for children as well as adults to shake you by the hand if they met you in the street. By contrast, Sutton Bridge was my first encounter with rough and tumble. When the school day ended, my main concern was how to dash out and manage the short distance home before my attackers had rallied themselves. I'd discovered a short cut just across the road which led along the side of the potato warehouse (a bungalow now stands on this site, but the alleyway between King Street and Queen Street still exists) to King Street. If I timed it right, I was through the alley and home in time for tea and Children's Hour on the radio unscathed.


The alleyway between King Street and Queen Street

But if I didn't, the corner of King Street by Cropley's shop (became McEwans, the butchers, now a private house) became my Bermuda Triangle. The ambushing pack would grab, punch, push me and throw my bag in someone's back garden, rushing off into the night with a valedictory, 'Jerryoonderthebed! Ha-ha-ha!'


Attackers await me in King Street

Of course, not all the kids were bad by any means. So, to Michael Hattigan, Brian Wright and John Harrison in particular, who had nothing to do with the bullyings, I say, 'Thanks for the moral support, lads!'


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PEOPLE ON PARADE

'Far from the madding crowd' was not a phrase you could apply to Sutton Bridge.

By the very nature of Queen Street, with its terraced houses and inward-facing backyards, you were always close to people, overhearing their conversations or activities whether they were next door or several gardens away.

The strongest evidence of activity was the line full of washing. Winceyette pyjamas, Chilprufe 'combs', drawers and all the other washtub contents were attached to a line running two-thirds the length of the garden, pulled high into the air by squealing pulleys until the garments flapped like pennants in a naval review.

Apart from an up-to-date Mrs Chester opposite, who bodily lifted her single-tub into the backyard to show us the modern way to do it, few washing machines had reached the neighbourhood. Like us, several households were still in the Dark Ages, boiling clothes in a copper or pummelling them in a dolly tub with a green block of Fairy Soap.

Having cut my teeth on The Darling Washer, however, dealing with this upstart dustbin and its cow's-udder stirring pole was a piece of cake. I happily accepted sheets, blankets and raincoats, stirring holes into them until someone begged me to stop.

Immediately next door to us with her yard facing ours was an old lady called Emma Tinker. In appearance, Emma was not unlike Grandma in the Daily Express Giles cartoons. Permanently clad in black from top to toe, with small feet encased in bar-over shoes and lisle stockings, her shallow-crowned hat was on rare occasions removed to reveal a spiky, white coiffure shorn very close at the back. She moved about very slowly, and her alert dark eyes, set like currants in a Garibaldi biscuit, missed nothing in their observations on mankind. Or girlkind. Several years earlier, she'd taken exception to my sister Juliet swinging upside down on the dividing fence, showing her knickers.

'Don't do that, Julien!' was her shocked response. 'That's disgoostin'.'

Nor would she tolerate girls whistling. 'T'ain't ladylike,' she'd complain.

Although she often got our names wrong, we were always mortified when she told us off. When I was four, she once caught me on her side of the fence, playing with her yard tap.

'Jereminy! Stop you that straight away!' And then, the coup de grace: ' I don't like yer now!'

But it was a different matter if I could be useful to her. She spent most of the day sitting in the gloom at the back of her living room, staring impassively through the window. But if I happened to step into her radar beam trained on the back garden, she'd suddenly come to life and knock on the window.

'Jereminy! Go you to Whitmores and get me 'arf a pound of bullseyes!' Such acts of unauthorised delegation angered Gran.

'She's got no right to do that. Blummin' cheek!' she used to say.

Not that I cared, for I got a couple of free bullseyes out of it. But there were always a few individuals who never got it right in Gran's eyes. Not even her friend Mrs Dowe escaped that lightly. Once her cake-making was denounced, 'because she lets all her fruit go to the bottom...’

To Mrs Dowe however, such detractions would have been like water off a duck's back. Nothing worried this bastion of Queen Street society, living in spick-and-span perfection at No.9. If a crisis occurred, she was the alternative emergency service, as in the case of the Mrs Tinker mishap.

One fine day while Music While You Work was sawing away on the radio, there came a cry for help.

'Tr-i-s-s-i-e!     T-r-i-s-s-i-e!'

It was a distress call for my mother. Rushing round next door, we encountered the woeful sight of Emma wedged in the bottom of her chair. Its wicker seat had collapsed, and allowed her to fall through in a confusion of grey-stockinged legs and long bloomers.

Wisely, my mother summoned Mrs Dowe. Round she came, probably interrupting a spell of gravity-driven cake making, but exuding confidence nevertheless. She wasn't fazed in the least by the scene before her.

‘I'm stuck in this here chair!' reminded Mrs Tinker, hunched forward like Winston Churchill conferring with Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference.

'Don't you worry, duck, we'll soon 'ave you out', reassured Mrs Dowe. 'You take one 'and, Trissie, and I'll take t'other.' And with that, Emma was pulled clear, like a tufty cork from a bottle.

But when she wasn't falling through chairs or meditating in her vantage point, Mrs Tinker showed great kindheartedness. Many's the time when, after a prolonged spell of banging on the fence to attract attention, a. seasoned hand would appear over the top, holding a saucepan of ready-sliced veg.

'Thought you'd like a few o' these,' she'd say. 'And now, I think I'll 'ave a hegg for my tea.'

Life was like that in Sutton Bridge. Neighbours put themselves out for each other and doors were almost always open to callers. During the summer, people even left their back doors ajar while they went shopping. This wasn't without its problems, though, as we arrived home once to find Ivy sitting in one of the fireside chairs. She was a character who made an occasional habit of frequenting other people's dwellings. But usually, after a chat about this and that, she was content to get up and go and check on someone else's residence.

Meanwhile, the open door at Mrs Dowe's led to instant hospitality, even on a busy wet washday. Garments might be steaming on a clothes horse in front of the original fireplace, with its miniature side ovens and wax-polished enamel. But before your bottom touched the chair, Mrs D proved she was the fastest draw in the East.

Cups materialised from an unseen source, and jam tarts appeared like rabbits out of a hat. Even today's fast-food joints would have been inspired by the Dowe method of catering. As if further proof were required of her qualities as a survivor, Mrs Dowe always carried an old newspaper clipping in her handbag. It dated from the 1890s and related an incident when she was a small child waiting at a level crossing gate. The keeper began to close the gates, not realising that Mrs Dowe was nearby, and wedged her head between the gate and the post.

In the quaintly melodramatic style of the time, the newspaper report expressed fears about the little mite living for long. But in the event, Mrs Dowe lived to be well over 100! And to this day, I've never forgotten her advice to my mother about dealing with hard butter. 'Take a fork to it, Trissie.’

On a typical weekend in this close-set layout of back ways which paralleled King Street, it was like arriving on a film set, with plenty of simultaneous action going on. George Taylor, smallholder and son of a character known as 'The Cockerel King', whistled as he tended a perfect row of runner beans. Meanwhile, a young Almey boy, hotwater bottle strapped to his waist to ward off the chill of the early autumn morning, was at large with a sheriff's gun in his sticky hand. As he chased me, Brian Wright and John Harrison up and down the alley, we'd respond with saliva-fed hissing noises to effect gunfire.

'Yer dead! I shot yer!

'That yer didn't. You jus' hit my arm! I'm still playin’ !'

While red-haired Mrs Chester continued the backyard wrestling match with her washing machine, her neighbour, Mrs Hodge, followed Mrs Tinker's example and sat at the back of her room, leaning sideways for hours to get a better view of the goings-on outside. Her vista would soon be interrupted, however, by the arrival of Patrick's green Morris Oxford delivery van bringing fresh bread and cakes. Or Mr Seaber the butcher, with a consignment of Sunday joints on the back seat of his new grey-and-white Vauxhall Cresta.

Farther along the alley, a tall Mrs Meek would be setting off to take her spaniel, Paddy, for a walk, exchanging greetings with old Duffy Barrett in her low, musical voice. While there were as yet no ghetto-blasters to cheer the gardener, handyman, or motorbike tinkerer through his outdoor tasks, a rhythmic beat could be heard coming from the end of the King Street terrace. Here a young Nigel Portass would be giving the drums a workout in his parents' downstairs front room. It was his first step in a career that would include running his own music shop in Bridge Road, and providing some of the backing for Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry during their British tours in the 1960s.


Nigel Portass

Back at No. 15, it was time to holster the silver gun and make tracks for Bridge Road with Grandmaw. Shutting the brown front door with a bang which reverberated down the street, we walked up the side road linking Queen Street with King Street, where the acoustic of the brick walls turned our footsteps into a metallic echo. Waving at Mr Cropley, a lean, distinguished-looking man reminiscent of pre-war speed king Malcolm Campbell, chopping away in his butcher's shop, we'd turn left for New Road. There we'd encounter Eadie Portass standing at her corner fence, always ready with a cheerful word for everybody.

Crossing the road by Alf Garner's, who in season tended a fine end-of-terrace display of sweet peas reflected in the black paintwork of his immaculate Morris Oxford, we'd scarcely turn the corner into Bridge Road before running into a contingent of Gran's contemporaries. Names now forgotten, their faces were ready to greet you under close-fitting headgear sprouting hatpins like rapiers.

‘ 'Ello, Annie! Is that Jeremy? My, ain't 'e grown! Fancy that! Joost like 'is dad!'

Lapping up this adulation, I seemed to take it for granted. A far cry from today's tendency to avoid eye contact at all costs.

'Owdo.'

Dan Skase was approaching. Gran's reply might be a little more guarded this time, as she regarded Dan as rather an unknown quantity. A roly-poly character in late middle age, his large, cloth-capped face bristling with what might now be termed designer stubble, and dressed in a collarless shirt under a demob suit, Dan led a sort of maverick existence in a prefab in the grounds of a large house at the far end of New Road. In reality he was probably quite a lonely individual, just out for his daily constitutional of no particular place to go. A likely destination was the Pensioner's Rest, a wooden shelter by the level crossing next to Latus's, where old men passed the time watching traffic and chatting to mates.

Dan apart, New Road society had genteel aspirations. Some of the houses, particularly on the golf course side, were large, grand affairs built between the wars. The post-war dwellings on the opposite side, predominantly bungalows with ultra-neat gardens, also had a quiet respectability about them. A typically conscientious owner of such a property was Arthur Brabben, victor of the local Gardens Competition in 1957.

Respectability also ruled in the vicinity of Fred Sole's house. Next door in a detached bungalow lived John Summers, a retired stationmaster of Sutton Bridge station *, and his widowed sister, Mrs Fraser.

Mr Summers belonged to the era when, with the local bank manager, headmaster, vicar and doctor, he made up one of the pillars of village society. Yet there was no pomposity to this reserved and courteous man of modest height. Usually clad in a dark three-piece suit, trilby and sporting a white moustache, he promenaded gently down New Road with his sister as if on the front at Eastbourne. They were exactly the sort of couple you could imagine being part of the audience in the Palm Court radio programme, listening to Max Jaffa playing Elgar.

This impression was furthered by Mrs Fraser. Lofty and majestic, she glided along in a dark blue suit on slender, lisle-stockinged legs. She fashioned her silver hair into a bun and spoke with a sighing, measured tone.

'Ah, Mrs Ay-moss,' she'd announce over the fence, 'would you care for the next copy of the Illustrated London News'! I think John and I have quite finished with it.'

Looking back, she was like a character from an Oscar Wilde play, in which he would probably have cast her with a wealth of preamble and stage directions as the Duchess of Terrington. I was aware she had presence, and tried to impress her with grown up phrases whenever I chatted to her across Fred's dahlias and rose bushes. I have since tried to imagine her in youth as an Edwardian beauty, and wondered what her background was.

As far as Gran's social round was concerned, one thing was certain: it was dominated by housework. But even she varied her routine once a week, thanks to the hospitality of her friend, Annie King*. Miss King, occasional whist drive champion of the Conservative Club, lived in one of a pair of cottages on Bridge Road at the corner of Gas House Lane, where a warm welcome always awaited you.

I accompanied Gran on many of these visits, lured by the prospect of a limitless supply of jam tarts and angel cakes, followed by a jug of orange squash. Although I was at least 60 years younger than the other guests, I never tired of this gathering of mature ladies in fluffy hats. Besides which, the presence of Annie's mother, Mary*, then in her nineties, lent an air of occasion to the proceedings. Unfortunately she couldn't see very far, but sat placidly with her back to the wall, joining in with a cheerful comment or two.

Meanwhile the rest of the company grouped themselves in a circle of armchairs with little plates of sandwiches on their knees, exchanging pleasantries, oo-ers and oh-I-says. With such a good initiation in circulating, I should have become a highly-accomplished social animal. I'd chat to Annie the hostess, pass to Mrs Moon and Amy Aubin, then nip round the back to see how Mary King was getting on.

This genial flow of conversation would bubble on until, all of a sudden, a frisson would run through the gathering and all talk would stop, like a plug being pulled on an appliance.

‘WHOOSTHAT?!?!’

Experienced veterans of these tea parties would know that this was the intro to analysing someone going past the window. Positioned slightly below road level, the structure of the house picked up every footstep transmitted from the pavement outside, placing the ladies on alert.

'It's old so-and-so!' the lookout would cry, breathless with the discovery.

'He looks well, doesn't he? Looks a sight with that haircut, though.’

From there the observation would develop a sub-plot:

'Who was his mother then?'

'You know! That ole gel from over Tydd way.'                                

'No-o-o! You're thinking of Maisie. She married that man who went to Leicester.'

And so it would go on, an unsuspecting passer-by providing enough subject matter to last for the rest of the afternoon.

As for Gran, those weekly visits provided her with enough to talk about for the rest of her days. The ladies of Gas House Lane were good friends indeed.

*Footnote: Mr Summers became the station master at Sutton Bridge Railways Station, after Mr George King, the Station foreman for 40 years, retired in 1930. Mr & Mrs King raised a family of two sons and three daughters. One of the daughters, Annie is the friend of Jeremy’s grandmother with whom he took tea. Mary, her mother, is the widow of Mr George King. After leaving the First Toll House, Annie and the family went to live in the pair of cottages on the corner of Gas Lane and Bridge road, near the modern day Post Office. [The First Toll House (Bridge House East), An Accidental History… by Peter and Maureen Hunt (1997)


Mr & Mrs George King with their son Dick, and two of their daughters outside Bridge House East. Annie is the daughter on the far right


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COOM YOU A RIDE WI' ME


Coom you a ride wi’ me

'I put four gallon in the tank. That lasst me a moonth.'

So said Duffy Barrett, through his moustache one morning. We were in the political grip of the Suez Crisis, when Egypt's President Nasser had closed the Suez Canal to British oil tankers. Petrol rationing was in force, and fuel was rationed to so many coupons per person. Driving tests would not resume in Spalding until May 1957. Nor was it an easy time for haulage operators. Some of them took risks in order to reduce the number of trips they had to make, by overloading their vehicles. At Crowland, for example, a lorry piled too high with flower boxes caused havoc when it hit an overhead cable. The restrictions were somewhat easier for Duffy. He ran a box-like Austin Seven from the early 1930s, used mainly on local runs.

'I'd like one o' these,' said George Taylor to my father one weekend when he was cleaning our Vauxhall Velox, 'but a more recent one, like.'

George lived a few doors away in Queen Street, and was also a Vauxhall man. He owned a black, 1947 Fourteen which ran with a smooth, sighing noise. Soon, it was replaced by a gold-metallic Wyvern. Vauxhalls were a popular make in Sutton Bridge, partly because Main Road Garage (now Tears) was the local dealership. Other owners included Dr Ralph Crockatt of Wharf Street, with a green,  Velox, and Mr Seaber the butcher, whose brand-new Cresta came resplendent in grey and white, with flashy whitewall tyres .Less fortunate a Vauxhall owner was Bertie Russell junior, of Petts Lane. Just before Christmas 1956, his Ten saloon caught fire on the West Bank road into the village. With flames licking from under the dash, Mr Russell escaped to call the fire service from the nearest phone box. But the brigade had to come four miles from Long Sutton, by which time the car was totally destroyed apart from the tyres.

Local teachers drove recent models of other makes, Miss Searle sporting a slate-grey Morris Minor, and Mr Williamson, the Head, a Humber Hawk -not a cheap car by any means. Newish cars in Queen Street were very few, but the Larges had a Ford Zephyr, as did the Portass family in King Street. This was regularly driven by Mrs Portass and kept in the free car park by the British Legion. In New Road, Eddie Frow, a vegetable wholesaler, ran a 1935 Austin Ten permanently attached to a trailer. Next door to the Constitutional Club, Alf Garner would be meticulously shining his black Morris Oxford, which seemed to be burnished more than driven. Edwards' cycle shop fielded a magnificent vehicle: a mid-1930s Daimler in bottle green with black wings. It stood outside the wooden shop, proudly perpendicular with its large, chromed headlamps and fluted radiator lending a most imposing air.

In fact, many people able to own a car made do with pre-war Austins, Fords, and Morris Eights and Tens. It was unlikely they could respond to Main Road Garage's ad in the Free Press to 'Salute the Victor'. This latest model, with its canary-yellow paintwork, jet-engine bumpers and wrap-around windscreen demanded all of 485, plus 244 purchase tax, when a serviceable banger could be bought for £15.

But even if you couldn't afford your ideal vehicle, Sutton Bridge ingenuity could get around the problem. Twenty-one-year-old Arthur Summerfield proved that, when he built his own tractor early in 1957. A blacksmith from Wharf Street, he assembled the components around a sixteen-horsepower Morris engine bought for 25s (£1.25). Even this was a non-runner when he bought it, but by the time he'd finished, he had a 15-cwt tractor powerful enough to uproot the plum tree in his back yard. It was then put to regular use on land at Cowbit, all for an outlay of a tenner.

Of really exotic cars in 'The Bridge', there were few, save for an occasional visit by Fred's son-in-law. His American Buick could sometimes be seen standing outside Balgownie in a flourish of bulbous curves and a grille like a giant's toast rack.

My favourite though was Fred Sole's own car, a new Rover 90. Every now and again, while Fred was having an afternoon nap, I'd creep furtively across the road to the garage in the kitchen garden and open the door with a key obligingly hung on a nail outside. There stood UNG 758, black and glossy with an ornate 'Rover 90' script on its boot lid. Through the open driver's door window, you could smell the leather upholstery and hear the dashboard clock ticking. Daringly, I'd open the door, climb into the soft bench seat, hold the steering wheel, slide the long gearlever through its positions. This was real motoring.


Fred’s car in his garage

If I was lucky, I got a ride in it when Fred went to King's Lynn on market days. Clad in a heavy tweed suit and donning driving gloves, he'd drop heavily into the seat and off we'd go, serenaded by that Rover whine in first gear, 'See there's a flower show on in church,' Fred might say, turning round to look at it and narrowly avoiding a lorry coming the other way.

Wafting over the bridge to little more than the sound of that dashboard clock, the Nene's banks below glistening with low-tide mud, we'd soon be on the Lynn Bank section of the A17. As the name implied, the Bank, or Lynn Boards, was a long straight running above, and parallel to, the railway line. Settling down to a remote hum, the Rover galloped along this undulating road, taut with newness and solid build. Only Fred's overtaking procedure was a cause for concern. Scarcely were we alongside the other car than he'd ease off the accelerator and coast back in front. Now, when even the most ordinary car can exceed the ton, I'm glad he was spared the hand-held-phone, racetrack impatience of today's A17.

Arriving in Lynn, Johnson's Garage in Tower Place had to be on the ball when they saw the Rover approaching. Fred would leave the car right across the front of their entrance with the keys inside, and make off for Donaldson's poultry shop in Norfolk Street. 'They'll sort it out,’ he'd say.

No account of life in Sutton Bridge would be complete without the railway. Several histories have been written over the years about the line, best known by its original title of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. Ronald Clark, Stewart Squires and John Rhodes have all ably described the importance of Sutton Bridge as a junction between Norfolk and the East Midlands. Unfortunately, the authorities thought otherwise in 1959, and closed it to passenger traffic.

Two years earlier however, petrol rationing brought a temporary increase in business, with much flower traffic transferring to rail in the Spalding area. In what was hardly a punchy tactical marketing message, British Railways' ad in the local press stated:

PETROL RATIONING
British Railways (Eastern Region) offer their services.
We are doing our best to meet emergency requirements
and invite your' cooperation and support. Write or
telephone your local goods agent or stationmaster, who
will be pleased to help you.'

Even in its declining years, the railway lent the village an indefinable status and a special atmosphere of sight, sound and purpose. No matter where you were in Sutton Bridge, background noises were ever-present, lending credibility to a pop song of the day, 'The Railroad Runs Through The Middle Of The House’. Even without 'Th'Express' passing through, there'd be wheezings, squealings, chuffings, clankings and the percussion of scores of buffers clashing together as the odd loco or two, quietly on the boil in a weed-strewn siding, suddenly woke up and buckled down to a bit of shunting. It reminded me of that regular phrase in my Reverend Awdry train books: ' “Oh! Oh! Oh!” ' screamed the trucks'.

Sutton Bridge trucks were also seen and heard crossing over Bridge Road and apparently heading for the golf course—as though in a parting of the Red Sea—en route for Travis & Arnolds' sawmills. At weekends there seemed to be little restriction to roaming these grassy sidings, as kids swung themselves onto buffers and clambered into trucks laden with freshly sawn, aromatic planks. Occasionally a small petrol-engined shunter fussed around the trucks like a mechanical sheepdog, getting them into line for transfer to the main sidings. Then the A17 traffic would be held up yet again, while an endless train of wood jutting up into the air emerged from the side of Latus's and disappeared behind Christian & Dobbs. By mid-1957 these lines across the road were becoming worn out, and a pass-the-buck situation was developing over who should pay for the replacements: the dock company, or Travis & Arnold?

There is no trace of the old station on the present Shires (until recently, Metalair Feldbinder site), but in its heyday, it occupied a commanding position and was an absorbing spectacle. It was unique in featuring the sharpest-curved platform in the country, built to accommodate the contortions of the line imposed by the installation of the existing bridge in 1897. A central bay with buffer stops catered for terminating local services, while the two outside platforms were allocated for lines as far as Peterborough and beyond in one direction, or Cromer, Norwich and Great Yarmouth in the other.

For a generous section of the platforms' length, waiting passengers were sheltered by a substantial Victorian canopy, something you miss on many exposed main-line stations today. Around the station's boundaries, the characteristic M & GN latticework fencing, reputedly made of oak, was much in evidence. It was complemented by an elegant, grey iron footbridge over the tracks: a good place to stand if you wanted to engulf yourself in clouds of smoke from trains passing underneath. Was this what it was like to be an angel up in the clouds? Riding on one of the trains was hardly the last word in record-breaking speed, but it was an exciting alternative to journeying on the Lincolnshire Road Car Co's green Bristol Lodekka buses -the '65' or '65 Duplicate' if an extra bus was needed- which stopped outside Latus's.

After waiting patiently on the blue-grey brick platform, or in the waiting room where in winter, a boulder of coal sulked in the grate, the locomotive, usually a 2-6-0 MT Class matt-black with filth, thundered in with a frenzy of connecting rods and billowings of steam into the platform canopy. When the squealing of brakes subsided, carriage doors slammed to the plaintive but lethargic lament of a porter crying, 'Soot'n Bridge! Soot'n Bridge!'

The delight continued as you climbed aboard motley corridor stock, leather window straps carrying obsolete 'LNER' (London and North Eastern Railway) logos, and settled into deeply-sprung moquette upholstery smelling of soot. Above the seats, between ventilation controls jammed in the 'ON' or 'OFF' position and faded framed pictures of obscure country mansions, you could make faces at yourself in the bevel-edged oval mirrors. The view outside alternated between clouds of smoke and undulating telegraph wires as we passed the heron pond by Chalk Lane and on through Walpole, Terrington and Clenchwarton stations.

An age and a half later, we reached the South Lynn Bridge. This sonorous, reverberating structure had to be crossed at crawling speed, since it had barely been able to cope with train weights, even in the early 1900s. From there on it was just a short run to South Lynn station, where we changed for the push-pull service into the town centre.

The push-pull was probably the nearest real-life equivalent to Thomas the Tank Engine, though considerably less pristine. Two old, maroon, corridor-less coaches were drawn by an even older black tank. Its footplate became an unscheduled ninth birthday treat when I was shown around its controls, the driver spinning tall yarns about his exploits as a wartime 'flight commander'. I returned to Sutton Bridge that particular day in high spirits, fresh with the importance of my locomotive-inspecting status, and eager to try out my new toy Vanwall racing car, bought with ten-shilling present money at Marks & Sparks. I held it up in triumph to show the ever-cheerful British Railways delivery driver, Harry Tolliday, who'd just come back to the station yard in his Austin flatbed truck.

Rail travel from Sutton Bridge to Norfolk became a thing of the past on Saturday, 28 February, 1959. John Barker, later to become the swing bridge operator, attached 'That's Yer Lot' posters to the fronts of locomotives and they were to be photographed many times passing up and down the line for the last time. Track-lifting began the following Monday on the Norfolk side of the bridge, where the East signalbox was demolished with equally indecent haste.

Since the de-regulation of the bus services, there is now only a limited cross-country bus service between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Transport technology may have improved since the age of the steam train, but you can't now get to Lynn after 5pm on weekdays unless you have a car.

Norfolk Green now run an excellent service -the 505- between Spalding and KL running every 20 minutes and into the evening until about 8.30pm


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OPEN FOR BUSINESS

'Make haste, it's five-and-twenty-past ten. We must go shoppin', Gran might say, donning her hat and transfixing it like a voodoo doll with hatpins.

Ads from the Parish Magazine
Advertisments from the Parish Magazine

If she were to do the same thing today after a 45-year break, she'd find it a bit bewildering. Many of the Sutton Bridge shop premises are still on their original sites, but carrying on different kinds of business altogether. There are antiques where toys and bikes used to be, high fashion has replaced valve radios, and vacant premises where newspapers and printing presses once reigned supreme.

Life goes on under a wealth of different traders' names, none of which Gran would recognise: apart from Whitmores, that is, but this title is now associated with carpets and furnishings.

Of businesses now gone, who remembers, at the end of King Street, Baker Johnson's, behind whose anonymous but warm brick wall were old-fashioned baking ovens dispensing delicious loaves with irresistibly pickable crusts? Or next door, at the corner with New Road, Gaskins, run by Vera Large, with its smell of baking powder, spiky rubber mats on the counter, and a sign on the door saying, 'Closed - even for the sale of Lyons Choc Rolls'?


Baker Johnson’s yard is now roofless

Gaskins Corner Shop as it is now
Gaskins as it is now (above) and at the beginning of the 20th Century (below)
Gaskins Corner Shop at the beginning of the 20th Century

Then at the opposite corner of King Street we’d encounter the lame but genial Eadie Portass, greeting every passer-by over the paling fence of her side garden that contained the timbered maroon shed, where she once fried fish and chips.

Eadie Portass’ fish & chip shop now part of a residential property
Eadie Portass’ fish & chip shop now part of a residential property

Across the road, did anyone buy a bike at Edwards — that long, low grotto smelling of fresh rubber and light oil, which also sold maggot bait for fishermen?

And, turning the corner towards the Bridge Road crossing, who in relatively recent years would not have heard of, or depended upon at some time, the elastic opening hours of R L Latus, a source of everything from a quarter of chocolate buttons in one shop, to a haircut in his new premises next door [now Bargain Booze and Sea Bank (another fish & chip shop)]. Here was the epitome of the British shopkeeper, with immaculate overall and trim moustache, who always troubled to recognise you no matter how long you'd been away. It's strange to walk past the site now, and not see him there.

You needed a cheap set of wheels quickly? Norman & Woodrow’s electrical and cycle shop could provide them. Situated next door to Len in the bottom half of a double-fronted Victorian house, they'd hire you out an old bike for 3/6 (17½p) a week. Sophistication has now taken over, in the form of Cindy's Fashions, where male escorts are royally brought tea on a tray while their ladies try on assorted finery.

Gagen's the butchers has given way to Green's Carpets,and the succeeding shops in Church Terrace, [occupied currently by Fotographic Photo Studio, (now empty once more), Smiths the Baker, and Fresh Choice Flowers] (link to People who live and work in Sutton Bridge - Tracey’s fruit & Veg) represented the dissolved empire of Fred Watson, whose mini-department store of haberdashery, fashions and provisions still cared enough about customers to provide them with chairs to sit on. His April '57 fashion show in the Church Hall featured local ladies as mannequins who, in defiance of today's Kate Moss shapes, were happy to be presented with boxes of chocolates in appreciation. Meanwhile, at the end-of-terrace newsagents, a lady called Beryl Goodger sold periodicals and stationery items in a comforting aroma of printing ink.

Speaking from the viewpoint of both child and man who has never grown up, the shop I miss most is Fell's [now the antique shop]. As a treat for getting one's sums right at school, there was nothing quite like being taken into this exciting shop opposite St Matthew's Church to choose a Dinky Toy. The pulse would quicken as the assistant, using a long pole with a kind of mechanical hand at the end, reached up to a high shelf and brought down a Dinky Supertoy Shell tanker in its blue-and-white-striped box. It was here that I enrolled for the Corgi Car Club (‘The Ones with Windows'), paying a shilling (5p) to receive an important-looking membership certificate, and a newsletter signed by Raymond Baxter. Status at last.

The antique shop
The antique shop

The area opposite the old school is a more penetrating reminder of things irretrievably gone. The chemist's shop, for instance, belonging to Mr Kildea, who supplied one of the school sports day cups, has been empty for quite a while (now the empty site, awaiting development). In the Fifties, he was still there to advise us on the right medicaments, a quiet and dignified Irishman in his white coat.

Modern houses now stand on the site of 'the flicks', imaginatively called The Cinema in its heyday. Early in 1957, if you didn't fancy Rock Around The Clock at Spalding's Savoy, Sutton Bridge was showing Picnic on the 'High Definition Wide Screen', with Kim Novak and William Holden. But The Cinema performed other social duties, too. When young Maureen and John Kilbon went missing for a whole day instead of turning up at their granny's, their mother, distraught in case the Nene had claimed them, asked the cinema manager to put out an appeal to anyone in the evening audience to report to the box office if they'd seen the children. Fortunately, brother and sister returned home shortly afterwards, after an alleged game of hide-and-seek lasting 12 hours!

The old cinema in Bridge Road
The old cinema in Bridge Road

Happily, several trading activities have continued or resumed in their original locations under new management. Baxters, near the junction of Bridge Road and Railway Lane, now fries fish and chips in the old Cawthorne premises. Meanwhile, Bridge Super Stores supermarket carries on what the Co-op started. Here I always remembered to quote Gran's 'divvy' number -1440- equating, according to my late father's dry humour, to the year of her birth.

Hardware is still sold in the former Christian & Dobbs shop [now Bridge Road Hardware]. C & D were controlled by a main branch in Long Sutton, which undertook, among other things, to service your Massey-Harris combine harvester. At the Sutton Bridge store, however, the emphasis was more on homely goods, from fancy chrome teapots and fireguards to those infamous green-enamel Aladdin paraffin stoves, which caused Niagaras of condensation down the walls when conditions allowed. Unwisely, Gran used to boil a kettle on top of hers...

The Hardware shop
The Hardware shop (was previously known as Bob Thomas’s)

In 1997 there was still a butcher's -R & W- where Seabers used to be, and after years of dereliction, the motor trade returned to the centre of Sutton Bridge, with Top Gear in the old Red Garage premises [now Old Barn Antiques], and Sutton Bridge Motor Company occupied the forecourt opposite [now built over by the Co-op]. In the mid-50s both these sites served fuel as well, and were run as one business by the Trayford family. The present Top Gear [Old Barn Antiques storage] showroom formed the main premises, where repairs were carried out. There was a pleasant smell of petrol and rubber when walking past its frontage under a colonnade of rubber pipes, which arched over the pavement from the pumps to hang down by the kerb like jungle vines.

Across the road was an uncovered concrete forecourt and kiosk, this time featuring a used car display and conventional petrol pumps. No self-service then, of course. As the gallons chimed in from Avery-Hardoll pumps, attendant Len Rose gave you his concise version of the weather forecast: 'It's gettin' out', was his usual prediction. Meanwhile, Stan Thickpenny would be shuffling the second-hand cars around, manoeuvring reluctant, misfiring beasts on full choke.

Behind Sutton Bridge Motors' kiosk was my fantasy fleet: a valley of scrapped cars in line astern, pointing towards the churchyard. When no one was looking, it was my idea of heaven to brave the barbed undergrowth and slip behind the wheel of a long-bonneted Wolseley pungent with grease, mould and old leather. Little matter there was no windscreen and a pool of water lying in the seat. I was in The Lavender Hill Mob again, escaping the police with a bootful of gold bars melted down into Eiffel Tower ornaments.

It was about this time that another garage, Leeson's in Railway Lane, must have wondered whether they weren't better off servicing boats than cars. Every time it rained hard, their inspection pit filled with up to four feet of water. It was thought that the cause was the construction of a footpath which had filled in a dyke running underneath, so the water had to come out somewhere. But none of the flooding was Leeson's fault, which made it all the harder for proprietor Jack Portass to bear when the local authority charged him for pumping it out. He wasn't alone in this protest and was joined by other Railway Lane residents who refused to pay a drainage rate for what they called, very topically at the time, 'their own Suez Canal.'

Floods may come and go, but the Bridge Hotel, reputed to be part of a site dating back to 1637, goes on forever. As 'nice' children weren't allowed near bars in those days, I never went in there during the 1950s, but at that time, there were 18 bedrooms, from 18/6 (92½p) a night, and three bathrooms, which earned it a two-star rating in the RAC Handbook. Fred asked Gran to Sunday lunch there once, but unfortunately, she declined.

'Why ever didn't you go?' we asked in amazement.

'Because people will talk,' she snapped.

Ah, well.


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"JERRY OONDER THE BED"
EPILOGUE

Yes, they're all gone, those sterling characters: Annie, Eadie, Fred, Duffy, Mrs Parker, Harry Tolliday and Emma Tinker. Her half-pound of bullseyes would have cleared out her purse now, and she'd never have accepted that. 'Two quid for a bag o' sweets? Disgoostin!'

It's strange getting reacquainted with Sutton Bridge after so many years. Like turning up on a stage set when your fellow actors have all gone home. There's a friendliness and familiarity about the place, but although quietly aware and appreciative of its past, it's got on with its life, and doesn't rest on any laurels. Important local industries, agricultural and energy projects have all developed over the last few decades. Even the 1897 Cross Keys Bridge is now powered by computer-programmed electronics, and in my view enjoys a new identity, symbolic of Sutton Bridge's port and engineering activities.

To most people, I'm a stranger in town nowadays. But in my mind at least, Sutton Bridge is no stranger to me, as I pass along the road making mental notes. St Matthew's Church means Sunday School prizes of Rowntrees Fruit Gums, for heavily-crayoned drawings of Jesus's baptism in the Jordan; the sound of gentle George Hoole playing Dvorak's New World Symphony on the organ; our children's voices on Palm Sunday, straining to reach the high notes of 'All glory, laud, and honour, to Thee, Redeemer King'.

At Bargain Booze, I imagine I can still hear Len Latus saying, 'Remember me to your dad,' as he dispenses a quarter of Maynards winegums. Or in the car park of the Co-op store, the ghost of a garage man retorting, 'There's never a charged battery in the dam' thing!' when I tell him Fred's Rover won't start.

And as I draw near to Feldbinder (UK) Ltd, do I still hear the slam of carriage doors echoing through the works, as a phantom porter wails, 'Soot'n Bridge! Soot'n Bridge!'? I like to think so.


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