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Lakelands was a happy place for me. I had my ponies, a freedom to roam the moors, I'd left the confines of the Convent and had a couple of very enjoyable years at Chulmleigh Secondary Modern School where I, an aspiring young writer, was given much encouragement from Mr and Mrs Richards, who taught English and Drama, among other subjects. I became Dad's right hand girl on the farm when he became ill, staying off school to turn and rake the hay with old Smarty, the heavy horse and the great iron horse-drawn implements.

Henry, being six years younger, had lighter tasks such as collecting the eggs or helping Dad fetch in the cows for milking. He also had numerous pet rabbits and Bantams of his own to tend. Henry, also, was often ill with Bronchitis. Our local postman, Sid Radford, who's girls Edna and Joyce, I went to school with, helped with the milking, hay harvest and many other jobs. There was one job that Sid refused. Two, on reflection, We had about fourteen dairy cows and, Daisy, a large Ayrshire cross, was rather temperamental. Fine some days, but if the mood took her she would lash our with a hind leg, throwing the milker off his three-legged stool, and the pail of milk would fly through the air to land with a clatter on the concrete floor, making the other cows jittery. I was given the task of milking Daisy. Neither would Sid be persuaded to use 'Simplex' milking machine Dad installed, so when Dad was laid up for several weeks with Lumbago, I had to do that as well. I always preferred milking by hand. I liked to lean against the cows and feel the warmth of their bodies. I soon befriended two local girls, Ann Godfrey, daughter of Olive and Fred, the latter being a retired policeman. And, Margaret Baker, daughter of Annie and Leslie, he being the local Blacksmith.

First, I met Ann as we all awaited the school bus at Thelbridge Cross, then Margaret, who passed on her fine horse, Jackdaw, as I was riding Bonnie Boy in our top field alongside the main road. We are still friends fifty years on, although I 'lost' Ann for twenty five years when we both moved and lost each other's addresses! It was my brother Henry who accidentally found Ann when his job as the AI man, took him to Ann's husband's farm at Rackenford! We had so much news to catch up on! Margaret, on the other hand, was more ladylike. I believe Mother felt Margaret would have a 'calming influence' on me. I often wonder, on reflection, if Margaret's Mother hoped I would not influence Margaret to become as wild as myself!

We went for sedate rides on our ponies, attended Church on Sundays and prepared for our confirmation with the Rev: Jasper Castlehow, a gentleman of well-rounded proportions. 'Jumbo', as we children cruelly nicknamed him, was a very patient man who could quickly become impatient when provoked! There was one occasion when Margaret, (having a spare key to the door) and I climbed the steep stone steps to the Church tower, where we could lean over the parapet and watch the villagers below. A good viewpoint of the village and surrounding countryside. It was amazing the things we saw. Unbeknown to us, someone locked the door at the foot of the steps. On discovering our exit was barred, we raced to the tower and, at the top of our voices, shouted for help. Jumbo had to be summoned to release us. He was not amused and we were banned from the tower from that day on! Margaret often played the Church organ for services and, on one occasion when she and the regular organist were away I, having had piano lessons, was asked to stand in and play for a Christening. On the organ I was hopeless and, after much tut-tutting, mutterings and exclamations of "Oh! No . . . Timing! Timing!" from Jumbo, I was never asked to play again!

The village of Witheridge was always a peaceful, friendly place, as I remember. Lakelands is situated on the Tiverton road at the upper end of the village, left-hand side beyond the Chapel and 'Higher' or 'Chapel School'. Walking down the hill and through the village, Butts Close the Council estate lay to the left, where many of the children lived whom attended both Chulmleigh and Witheridge Schools. I recall Roy and Terry Harris, Roy and Jean Manley, Leslie Pyne, Freda and Dorothy Davey. Dorothy Davey and Jean Manley often came to Lakelands to play with Henry, being nearer his age and, attending Witheridge Church School. Johnny Bryant, too. Many of these, I have since learned, are deceased. There was Doctor Mackenzie who lived in a large house on the right, which also acted as his surgery. I only ever remember going once when I had tonsillitis, followed by the removal of the same in Tiverton General Hospital. He was, I believe, separated from his wife and his two daughters, Daphne and Fiona, stayed at Lakelands during one Summer holiday, so they could spend time with their father, when he wasn't working. Almost next door lived a Mrs Dick and her young daughter Davina. Sandy-haired and freckle faced, the child appeared on our back doorstep one day, stating, "I'm Dinny Dick, and I've come to play with Henry!" I believe Dinnie's mother and ours became friendly. I don't recall a father figure. I always remember Dinny as being a sunny, outgoing little tomboy. What happened to her, I wonder? A short walk on was Greenslade's Garage, on the left, though there were few cars in those days. They did have one unusual customer, however. Mum and Dad bought Henry a lovely cream Austin racing, pedal car, probably for a sixth or seventh birthday present. The bonnet opened by undoing two leather straps, to reveal an array of plugs and points on a mock engine. One day Mother had a phone call from Greenslade's to collect young Henry. He had driven up our long drive, down the Main Road, and into the garage to, "have my car serviced like Daddy's, please!" He said his spark plugs needed changing. What child would be safe, one wonders, in today's climate, to go off on their own like that? Yet, in Witheridge today, I still feel safe. Greenslade's also had a small shop next door to the garage. I remember only ever going there once with Ann.

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Mr Holloway's shop was where mother ordered groceries to be delivered, especially when she took in paying guests to supplement the farm income. Very often, something extra would be required during the week and added to the bill; which was paid at the end of each week. Imagine her surprise to discover several small amounts of sweets added to her bill. On talking to Mr Holloway, she was informed that young Henry had been calling in on his way home from school, selecting his sweets and stating, "Put them on Mummy's bill, please, she'll pay!" That was soon nipped in the bud! We were still using sweet coupons at that time and, many of the older people kindly donated their unused coupons to the shop for the children to take up, providing they had pennies, they could have more than their 'ration'.

When we were children, everything was sold 'loose', be it teas, sugar, dried fruit, biscuits, flour, sweets. It was wonderful to enter a shop and inhale all the different aromas, cheese, hams, dried fruits, and biscuits. Even more exciting to watch as everything was carefully selected and weighed, put into individual paper bags which, with a flick of the wrists, were 'sealed' at the corners with a twist! As well as Mr Holloway delivering groceries, the butcher and baker delivered, also. They came to the back door, (or tradesman's entrance) and rang the bell which attached to a long piece of wire with a wooden ring to pull. Bonnie Boy often followed the baker into the courtyard, knowing he would be offered a stale bun, kept especially for the occasion, after he had helped himself to a fresh one from the basket one day! It was not long before Bonnie Boy learned to grip the bell-pull between his teeth and so ring the bell, summoning Mother to the door. And, he wouldn't go until she had feed him a bun or a crust of bread! Margaret lived almost opposite Holloway's shop when I knew her and I was often invited home for tea. I believe young Georgie Aplin lived next door. And, a little further on was 'The Hare and Hounds', run I believe by a 'Digger' Ford. Or so Henry remembers. The Baker's shop was centre of a fork in the road, which snaked either side of it to curve left to Selley's Dairy, the Post Office and general stores. Right, towards 'The Angel Hotel', the Vicarage, newsagents and Church. Both roads ran down to the square. There was a house built in the centre, an island to itself. A Fish and Chip shop stood to the left at the bottom of the street running into Drayford Lane. And, on the South Molton road was the Blacksmith shop and the Church School.

I loved to stand at the 'Smithy' door and watch Mr Baker at his work. The heat of the fire, the great bellows fanning the embers to a bright red, watching as he moulded a horseshoe shape from a straight piece of iron, the smell of hot iron against cool hoof, the sizzling sound as he measured the shoe for size. It was wonderful! There was always a queue of horses and ponies, all shapes and sizes, being a strong farming and hunting area. Men would gather to gossip and smoke as they waited their turn, many passers by would stop to pass the time of day. It was a general meeting place to 'put the World to rights'. And no one was ever in a hurry. People had time for each other. Time to absorb their surroundings. Time to share each other's joys and sorrows. Bill and Ruby Buchanan ran The Angel, Ruby being Margaret's Aunt. Another Aunt, Olive Vernon and her husband Bill, owned the newsagent and sweet shop, along with a good selection of knitting wool, haberdashery and some clothing. Both Ruby and Olive were sisters to Leslie Baker.

Back at the farm, there was never a dull moment, As well as the dairy herd, we had a few pigs, the ponies Kitty, my little Exmoor (now outgrown), Tommy, a Welsh cob about 14.hh, and my own beautiful, 13.2hh dapple grey Bonnie Boy, with flowing cream mane and tail. There was also Smarty, the carthorse, who was purchased with the property, old, smelly, but kind and gentle and, a willing worker. Apart from milking, feeding, mucking out stables and sties, hosing the milking parlour, there would be Mangolds to feed into a huge contraption of a machine in winter, (my job) to come out at the other end neatly chopped up as supplementary feed. It was similar to a mincer used in the farm kitchen, but much bigger. There was always wood to be sawn on the 'saw-horse' with a two-hand saw, for the open fire and Rayburn, along with chopping sticks for kindling. And, or course, eggs to be collected from the coops or hedges, wherever the hens chose to lay. There were occasions we didn't find a nest until a proud mum introduced a brood of chicks she had hatched. When he had a glut of eggs, Dad preserved some in Isinglass in a big 'Ali Baba' style crock kept in the Dairy. I still had that crock, filled with plants, until recently when it split wide open during a particularly cold spell. The remains are placed in the bottom of garden tubs to encourage drainage. The obvious thing to do but, today known as 'recycling'.

Dad also experimented with butter and cheese making. I recall muslin bags of the latter, hanging from hooks in the dairy, the whey dripping into bowls beneath. I remember, also, the wooden butter pats, Dad with one in each hand 'patting' the butter into shape. These often had a design that transferred to the butter pat. But of course, before using the butter pats, milk was put into a small individual butter churn. This little churn was made of glass with a metal screw-on lid on the top of which was a set of cogs and a handle. As the handle was turned by hand, wooden paddles attached to a metal spindle in the base of the lid, turned and churned the milk until it thickened. It was a long tedious process, taking a lot of patience, a steady consistent turning of the paddles until the butter was produced. The butter was eventually shaped with the wooden 'pats', and all this by hand. The joy was in the eating of a product one had made. We were given many different 'textures' and flavours until Dad got a perfect result in his little 'gallon-size' churn!

Horses needed regular grooming and exercising. That was no hardship. Tack was cleaned regularly, lather soaped and polished. Margaret and I did these tasks together. There was often a local Hunt, we followed the Tiverton Foxhounds, or a gymkhana to attend, or regular visits to the Smithy. Dad kept a few beehives at the bottom of the vegetable garden, having started this hobby at Lower Loxhore, our previous home. I would watch at a distance as Dad removed the honeycombs from the hives, clad in his thick gloves on his hands and 'protective net' over his head. There is nothing like honey on the combe straight from the hive! I loved the apple harvest and since we had a Market Garden prior to moving to Lakelands, I had already been taught to handle fruit with care, and to store apples for the winter months. These we lay out in rows on wooden racks, or wrapped in newspaper and lay in single layers in boxes. They had to be checked regularly and any beginning to bruise or go rotten would be removed and taken to the house to make apple tarts. I enjoyed helping Mother in the kitchen preserving fruit in both 2lb and 1lb Kilner jars, making pound upon pound of jam in huge preserving pans atop the Rayburn, stirring the rich colours of plums, gooseberries, black and red currants and raspberries. The jam was potted in pre-warmed jars, topped with a small circle of greaseproof paper and covered with a larger circle of clear cellophane held in place with an elastic band. The labels were all hand-written, of course! The Kilner jars were stored in the dairy on wooden slatted shelves round the walls. I can see them now, in my minds eye, the apple rings, Victoria plums, damsons, red and green gooseberries, red and black currants, maybe a few loganberries. The pots of jam included gooseberry, black and red currant, raspberry and strawberry. Mother made her own marmalade with big, juicy Seville oranges, to add to the store cupboard.

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When the hedgerows were hanging with big, lush blackberries, we, and any cousins or friends staying with us, trailed after Mother round the fields, she hooking down the higher brambles with the crook of a walking stick, we all picking, popping two in our mouths to every one dropped into the newspaper lined wicker baskets. These were also made into jam or blackberry and apple tarts. Our lips, chins and fingers soon became a rich purple, as did the front of our shirts! Hay making was a big occasion, too. Sid was always there with Smarty and the hay wagon, the hay having been cut, turned and raked. We usually had a houseful of cousins for the summer holidays and Dad had taken on a college student, another John, Bryant, on his 'year out on practical work'. John and my cousin John Wilson (home from boarding school) both worked hard on the farm. Mother would prepare a tea to have in the fields, having cooked our main meal at midday when everyone ate round the kitchen table. What a spread we had, cooked hams and other meats, rich fruit cakes, Victoria sandwich, fruit tarts and meat pies, scones and cream, all washed down with hot, sweet tea, or Eiffel Tower lemonade, (made from crystals) or, 'Scrumpy' from a flagon, kept cool under the now stationery Wagon.

As summer ended, Autumn dawned, we worked hard to build a huge wood pile of cut logs, filled an outhouse with kindling wood and, ensured all outhouse doors and windows were repaired and secure against bad weather. Wellington boots, thick trousers, thick hand-knitted sweaters and duffel coats or trench coats, replaced the summer shorts, shirts and sandals. With the rain came the muddy yard and fields. With icy winds there was ice to break on water troughs and the duck pond daily. With the snow came more mucking out and extra feed when animals were confined indoors. I remember Dad battling against strong winds to push the milk churns up the long drive on a trolley. To be left on the stand by the entrance gate for collection. It was slightly uphill and hard work. Much easier on the return journey, being downhill and with the returned empty churns. I remember a visiting fair, a very small fair by today's standards. But very exciting for us. I was standing in a queue for the Swing Boats; I must have been about fourteen at the time. An older, very attractive, boy from a neighbouring village was standing in front of me and I whispered to Ann Godfrey, "I wish I could go up with him!" He must have heard me for he turned and smiled, "Come on, then", he said taking my arm. I stuttered and blushed with embarrassment, even more in the swing-boat. He swung me high and, on the downward sweep, my full skirt flared up, exposing thick, cotton, elasticised, regulation navy-blue school knickers! The style with a little pocket in front for a handkerchief! Battling with my skirt and trying to hold onto a rope of the swing was pretty nigh impossible! The more agitated I became, the higher the boy swung the boat! I was near tears as I climbed out, and hoped I would never come face to face with the boy again.

The Carnival was another event we eagerly looked forward to. Weeks, sometimes months of planning tableau's and costumes. Many evenings of designing and sewing outfits, in secret of course, so others would not know what your character would be. Freda and Dorothy Davey's mother had a float and Ann was included on it for at least two years. One theme was 'The Parade of the Tin Soldiers', which must surely have been tiring for those having to stand to attention. Another theme was 'Somewhere over the Rainbow'. What a wonderful display of colour, all the costumes having been made of crepe paper. What luck that it didn't rain that year! Margaret made a beautiful and very authentic Indian squaw with her long, glossy, black hair braided and intertwined with coloured ribbons, looking very straight and regal on Jackdaw. I dressed in a cowboy outfit as her partner. Dad produced a lovely Stetson from somewhere, and made a lanyard of thick white cord. I also had my holsters and mock pistols. I don't know who won, it didn't matter. Our prize was in the fun of dressing up and entering in the spirit of the Carnival. There were occasionally concerts and social evenings held in the rooms upstairs in The Angel. Dad got quite involved in the concerts, singing and telling jokes. I was so proud of his singing, he had a lovely baritone voice, but not overly impressed with his jokes, probably because we had to listen to them at home as he rehearsed on us!

There have been a few changes after fifty years that is to be expected, but much of the 'Old Witheridge' is still there. And I hope it will stay that way!

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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