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The last fifty years or thereabouts

In 1966, having been Vicar of Witheridge since 1922, the Rev J A S Castlehow died. We are greatly indebted to him for laying the foundations of Witheridge's local history, with his scholarly work covering some 60 of the old foolscap pages. In the late seventies we ourselves began to write down the memories of some of the older generation. An initial attempt at tape recording was abandoned due to persistent interjections of "is that thing still on?" We did nothing with these memories for many years. By the mid-eighties we had begun to collect old photographs and to copy out several hundred excerpts from the South Molton Gazettes of 1857 to 1939. The result of this was the publication in 1988 of 'Old Witheridge'. Our collection of memories finally saw the light of day a few years later. In the year 2000 one of us wrote and published '80 Years of Witheridge Football Club', and in the same year we and others put together the material for the Parish Council's 'Witheridge 2000', the photographic record of the millennium year. The final pages take the form of a review of the last 50 years with an occasional look back further.

The last half of the 20th century saw many changes. By 1950, mains water and electricity had at last been connected, and as though by good timing this was followed by a substantial increase in housing. Those in Fore Street had been built just before 1939, but in 1948 the development of Butts Close began. This continued in stages, and soon incorporated the first old people's bungalows. As time went on Butts Close continued up and across the top of the village.

The likelihood of tenants owning cars was at last recognised by the construction of a block of garages. Set separately in Butts Close from the main road was East Close. These included one for the warden. By 1961 the population had fallen below 700, the lowest for a couple of hundred years, but this was about to change, and in the last 30 years it has risen steadily. Appletree Close took the place of Ebrington's Row, whose solid cob walls took a lot of knocking down. Lakelands followed, and then there was a pause before the major expansion of Brooke Road and its associated side roads. All these were given local historic names. The population soon reached 1200. There was then a 20-year breather before 2000 when houses sprang up around the site of a long-gone farm called Broomhouse. Anstey's Court, on the old garage plot, took its name from former dwellings across the road.

The sixties also saw the two schools come together as one, after 25 years of negotiation and over a century of rivalry.

Over these years there have been changes in the pattern of employment. There was a time when a full busload of workers would go daily to Tiverton to 'The Factory', as Heathcoats was called. Changes in farming practices had a great influence too, so that fits in here neatly.

In 1950 we still had two of our original pubs - the Hare and Hounds and The Angel. A Tiverton brewery kept The Angel in hand for many years, but did little for the comfort of the customers. Hiring the upstairs room in winter meant two tiny buckets of coal for the two tiny fires for the evening - and overcoats. There was much more atmosphere in the Hare and Hounds and it was a sad day when it closed. The Mitre had been built about 1840 to catch the passing trade brought by the then new turnpike road. Sadly for it The Angel had got in first and cornered the market. About this time the original Parsonage house burnt down, and the Vicars preferred to live in The Mitre for 40 years until a new Vicarage was erected in the 1880's. The Mitre became a pub in the Seventies. Skittles, darts and pool teams always need a good and congenial base, and a pub can be a social meeting place.

Soon after the 1939-45 war Tracey Green and Venbridge Cottages were destroyed by fire, and we got our own fire brigade in 1947. Early members included Percy Brewer, Ralf Tarr, Frankie Kingdom, Stan Price, Bill Vernon, John Luxton, Bill Somerwell, and Stan Selley. The first fire attended was at Lower Thorne, Rackenford. The Austin fire engine towed a Coventry Climax pump. They were housed in North Street behind the double glass doors. Warnings were given by day by siren, and by night a bell would ring in every fireman's house. Fred Woollacott was at the National School in the late forties and remembers how the children used to rush to the windows if the siren seemed to be coming their way, to see the engine pass. When the siren went, John Leach would leave the horse he was shoeing in the blacksmith's next to the school and run up the road, followed by Ralf Tarr from Muxeries on his bicycle. Later new premises were built next to the school up the road, and the firemen are a proud feature of village life today.

The stone police house in the Square was built in the late 19th century. For decades the force consisted of a sergeant and constable. Little use was made of the cells in later years; the last sergeant's wife filled them up with home-made wine. A new police house was provided near the school, but did not serve long, as reorganisation removed local bobbies generally.

Mr Gordon Pyne's memories begin just before wartime, and will fit in here.

Before the war and rationing put a temporary closure on butchery businesses, there were a number of slaughtermen in Witheridge; among them were Sid Dart, James Hill, Cummings Bowden, Mr Bristow and Sid Ware. Not until 1954 did rationing end and slaughtering begin again at the back of Tout's the butcher's opposite the Church gate. The round covered not only the parish but parts of Thelbridge as well, such as Marchweek, Woodford, and Summer.

In wartime the churchyard grass would be cut by scythe and made into hay; the rick would be on the Vicarage lawn, on a staddle or staddling of sticks and browse to keep it off the ground and dry. The Vicarage garden was renowned for its fine fruit, especially pears and Victoria plums. War encouraged rabbit keeping, and this developed into a craze for show rabbits. The Vicar kept Superfex, Percy Bowden took his Beverins to shows. At the national school were black and white Dutch rabbits and Flemish Giants, which were also favoured by Arthur Bryant. Bee keeping was also popular. The two families who replaced the Vicar in the sixties used to keep bees, and this enterprise lead to the honey business in South Molton.

In the fifties and sixties deliveries to the door were commonplace. Milk and eggs were taken by round by Toz Gibson, Stephen Selley, and Winston Maunder. Many drank scald milk as it was cheaper and said to be better for you. If these three let their cows out at the same time the Square became not only dirty but chaotic as well. Percy Holloway delivered groceries, Touts delivered meat, and round the farms came sellers of fish, medicines, clothes, etc.

Williams the chemist was in West Street, with big glass vessels of coloured water in the window, and the rows of brass-handled drawers.

Bill Vernon presided over Notts Quarries office in the Square, until it was taken over by Devon General as a bus office. Also there was Joe Churchill in the Pound House, where he combined the skills of postman, barber, harness-maker, and cider drinker. Jack Payne at Butts Close was another barber; he also mended boots and shoes. Funerals were in the hands of Ernie Hutchings and his son Bill, until Bill Rowcliffe took over. Doug Venner ran a coach business and had two petrol pumps in the old quarry at Drayford opposite the mill. Jim Leach was in charge at Hamlin's Mill in Fore Street, and grocery shops were run by Isaac Kerslake (Chairman of the British legion), Percy Holloway and Frankie Kingdom. Witheridge Mill closed in the sixties, Charlie Maire being the last miller.

By this time all that was left of Mr Adam's blacksmiths business in the triangle at the top of the village was a shed. George Beer had bought the blacksmiths shop by the National School from Les Baker, and John Leach was the last smith there.

In the early days of transport a vehicle had to do more than one job, and Arthur Bryant's lorry did just that. He'd move cattle one day and furniture the next - sometimes both on the same day.

We are grateful to Mr Pyne for his recollections.

In the 30's Miss Benson offered the village the building known as The Mitre for use as a social centre, together with 23 acres of land. The offer was rejected, only to be re-offered later and accepted.

Later still it was realised that The Mitre would not make a village hall; if only because there was no big function room. The Trustees therefore sold The Mitre and all the land, with the exception of one field, known then as Ways Field, originally, First Lime Close. The money was invested in the name of The Witheridge Parish Hall. Through the 50's the Angel Room served as the village function room, being used for dances, plays, receptions, meetings, parties, etc. Smaller events used the Church Rooms. In the early 60's interest in having a real parish hall began to grow, encouraged by the Vicar, the Rev J A S Castlehow. A representative committee was formed, money began to be raised, and plans were drawn up for an architect designed building. It was soon clear that even with the grant available such a building could not be afforded. Contact was made with a firm called Devon Lady, who specialised in the modular cedarwood system. Contracts were signed and the job was done. During this period a parish collection took place and although the response was generous, there was still a few doubters. The hall was opened in 1964 and was at once popular, and soon even the doubters began to wonder how we ever managed without it. By the 70's it was clear that Witheridge was about to expand, so funds were raised and grants obtained and the hall was extended. A hard tennis court was an early addition, together with a storage hut, kids play area and extended car park. Recently room has been found for the recycling hut, where newspapers and bottles are collected. A skip used to call for bulky items, but this was withdrawn in the late 1990s. The main room in the hall, was, and is, used for meetings, badminton, short mat bowls, drama group productions, flower shows, fundraising events, dances, discos and all the traditional village hall uses.

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

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