Growing up in English Bicknor Late 40's early 50's by Richard Neaubauer
Notes From Richard
My parents had very different backgrounds, Mum born in English Bicknor from very much a country family; she had been a Cook at the big house Bicknor Court and Courtfield. She was descended from my Great Grandfather Pope a Gamekeeper by trade as was her Uncle who was also in the same trade. My Mum could remember the family names going back a few generations such that I too can remember Hale, Rhymney Porter, Pope & Jones. She was a member of a large family as were most she stayed at home and had sisters Nancy who emigrated to Canada, Leonora who married Sydney Gibbs and lived at Rosemary Topping then Church Cottage, Ivor was killed in the First World War at Salonika in Greece after joining up underage and being promoted on the battlefield.
Dad was born into a wealthy Jewish Family in Vienna his father being the Managing Director of Insurance Company. He himself played top class football in Austria winning three International Caps. He became a Director of a large Department Store the Austrian equivalent of Marks & Spencer. He lived in homes with servants and already had all the modcons that in the Uk he would not find for many years hence. His family and indeed he like all Jews suffered terribly under the Nazi’s and he lost his first Wife Mother and Beautiful daughter (Shirley Temple) all being shot part way on a train journey that was meant to go to Riga. Previous generations of the family had been driven west by pogroms’ one of the places they had lived was the famous brewing town of Pilsen.
During my early childhood my Father had opportunities to obtain Senior Roles in Uk department store groups but turned them down to help my Mother look after her Father. This was because he had not had the chance to take care of his own family and as you probably may know family responsibility is a very important aspect of Jewish belief.
My Father worked in Gloucester and he would get on a bus to Cinderford at Ediswan Lydbrook and then on to Gloucester. He walked to Lydbrook to get his bus and the same in the evening except on Saturday nights when he walked from the top of the Long Hill, later when I grew up I picked him up in my car.
When I was young my Grandfather was still alive, he had been a Stonemason and we still had a number of big cross cut saws that had been used to cut blocks of stone. I understand that he would go to work pushing a two wheeled cart with his tools etc on that he needed for his days work. My Uncle Edgar also a Stonemason and then a Bricklayer was still alive he was a very large and very strong man. He walked at the weekend to the Forge Hammer Pub in Lydbrook where he sat in the corner quietly drinking, like many big people he was very quiet but very protective of his friends. One incident which I understand was part of local folklore was when two young men tried to cause a disturbance in the Forge he picked one up in each hand by the collar carried them out and dropped them outside the door. Another story I was told about Edgar (health and safety cry your eyes out) was when a worker up on scaffolding was not doing as he should, he held him out dangling in mid air to teach him a lesson.
At home we did not have mains Electricity or water. We fetched water in buckets from a well in the wood. We had oil lamps in the house and had candles to light ourselves to bed.
We bathed in a tin bath in front of the fire as only child I was first then mum then dad did not change water just topped up with hot water from a saucepan.
The food was delivered to your door no supermarkets existed. The milk came to us from two sources from Philips father bottled tt tested silver top or channel island lots of cream on the top, so you did not need to buy cream just pour off and whip. We also had another milkman he delivered in churns, you took an enamel jug out and he would ladle out of churn in to your jug. If the weather was hot the milk would be scalded boiled in effect bit like pasteurisation to stop it going sour.
The Baker called on Monday Wednesday and Friday our Bread was from Reg Fear at Viaduct Stores, many other people had Knights from Ruardean. They Baked Bread on the premises as well as cakes such as lardies Chelsea’s etc. They would come in with a wicker basket with various goods in and you would take what you wanted to buy. On Wednesday you would give them an order and this would be delivered on Friday. Things like flour sugar etc would be weighed in to blue bags.
The meat was also delivered in a van which in those days not refrigerated just in metal trays and wrapped in paper. He would like Baker come to the door throw bones to dog then you would go to back of van, on Wednesday you would order for weekend. We kept meat in safe to stop flies getting to it, if weather was hot meat would be part cooked.
A bit later we started to have mobile shops which were often converted old buses with shelves installed for goods. We had calling mobile Grocers, Chemists and Greengrocers.
Trips and Holidays
When I was young very few people had cars so people waited for buses and would not go further than Ross or Coleford or Monmouth by steam train from Lybrook Junction.
The annual Sunday coach trips by Edwards of Joys Green or Collets from Christchurch to Barry Island, Porthcawl, Weston Super Mare or Bristol Zoo. These trips would be looked forward to for months and would be highlights of peoples Summer. If people did have holidays it is likely be at a caravan site at one of the three seaside resorts.
The other main entertainment was going to the cinema always known as going to the pictures. There were picture houses in Lydbrook, Coleford, Bream, Lydney Ross and Monmouth.
In those days people walked a lot more I remember going to the pictures in Coleford with Robert and Philip Gwilliam and I think Gerald Gwynne and walking back down Joyford to Bicknor. I also used to walk with my parents through the walks to Yat Rock and then have a snack before a drink at the Rock Inn and back through the lanes to Bicknor.
General life of Children
It was much safer for children as there was much less traffic. The boys would make camps in the wood being away from home all day, lighting fires to roast potatoes in the embers and taking saucepans from home to warm baked beans. Football on cricket was played on the roads. If we heard a car we would move our coat goalposts or tin drum wickets for the vehicle to pass.
The village hall committee organised parties for children as well as for pensioners. On Bonfire night there was a prize for the best Guy which also had the honour of being top of the bonfire. On one famous night a “Jack Jumper” firework went in to the main box of fireworks and they all went off at once. Just thought of as a big laugh then but now probably criminal
There was also the large Autumn Flower show as well as for a time a Spring Flower show to. There were children’s painting and drawing section as well as largest collection of wild flowers for which I won the cup one year.
Teachers & General Most of my time at Bicknor school which was from 1951 to 1957 there were two teachers the Head Mrs Jean Jones from Stowfield and Mrs Enid Jones (no relation) who lived at English Bicknor then Carters piece. There were two classes one for 5-7 year olds and one for 8 to 10/11, they were known by the children as the little class and the big class. There were approximately 16 children in each class 32 in the school. The boys wore short trousers in fact they continued to wear at Grammar or Secondary Modern until about the age of 14 years. The girls nearly all wore little ribbon bows in their hair. The children nearly all walked to school as very few people had cars in fact Mrs Enid Jones the one teacher walked from Carters Piece each day 2 miles in each direction in Wind Rain or Snow. When we became older we rode bicycles to school. The village school was like a large extended family because as people did not move around much many families had known one another for generations.
Milk at School All the children at school had a third of a pint of milk (fifth of a litre) at Morning Break provided in small bottles by a company called Sedbury Dairies who provided milk for all the schools in the area. The children would queue up for the milk and take a paper straw from the box to drink it. In the winter the teachers arranged for children to all bring in a selected mixer and a mug for a hot drink, I brought in a drink called Bournevita.
The Stoves The school was heated by large Coke Stoves in each classroom the Coke was stored in the room under the school. If the Wind was in the wrong direction or the coak was damp the room would fill with smoke and the windows would have to be opened. At other times when the Stoves were drawing well the pipes would glow red hot. On cold winters day’s chairs would be moved so we could all sit near the Stoves away from Cold Draughts.
School Lunch Nearly all the Children ate school Dinners which were cooked on the premises; these were home cooked style meals vegetables often being obtained from Gardens in the village. The food was very good and children would often put their hands up for “extra”.
Blackboards Though writing was done on paper many things were done on individual chalk black boards with lines drawn on them so that children could form their letters properly, and also some had squares for numbers.
PT Lessons We would have PT lessons on mats in the playground when the weather was dry; we also played rounders and did exercises with hoops.
Artistic Lessons There were lessons when we had the choice of doing some sort of artistic or practical work making models in plasticine or weaving wool on cards.
Ink We sometimes write in ink, inkwells were in the desks and to write we used dip pens. The ink was mixed from powder and water one of us would have the job of mixing the powder with water to make the ink.
The 11 Plus The children all sat the 11+ to decide if they would go to Bells Grammar School Coleford or Five Acres (Berry Hill Secondary Modern). There were two parts first the intelligence test which nearly everyone would pass then the actual exam which decided where you would go to school. An occasional child would sit for entrance to Monmouth Boys or Girls School.
The Rat Episode Near to the school was the remains of the old moat for the Castle since filled in but when I was there filled with water. Rubbish was often tipped nearby and this attracted Rats. Rats of course carry diseases which include Hepatitis or Jaundice in which your skin turns yellow. The Rats made their homes under the school and some children including myself became very ill and I believe school was closed whilst people were brought in to remove the rats; personally I was ill and off school for 9 weeks.
The Time of the Coronation In the year of the Coronation most houses did not have TV’s so after the Coronation all schools visited local cinemas (pictures) to see the film of the event as we did in Coleford. At Bicknor we were also lucky as our Head Teacher Mrs Jean Jones husband worked at a school in Cinderford who were organising a trip to London. This was by Steam Train from Cinderford Station. We had double decker bus trip around London looking at the sites the route and all the decorations. The party then split in to Girls and Boys I was with the Girls as my Mother was an Adult helper with them and we went to look at the Coronation Robes at St James Palace.
School Walks When the weather was good we would go on nature rambles down Common Grove or towards Eastbach. The teachers would take Flower and Bird books so we could identify what we see. We would take the flowers we picked back to school to identify those we did not find in the books straight away.
Story Time One afternoon a week the teacher would read us a story usually from an Enid Blyton adventure. Each week it would stop at an exciting part just like present day TV soaps, so next week we were all waiting to find out what had happened.
Bullying This went on in the playground and we had to put up with it and try to fight back, Teachers would often not be there to watch us. I once had a fight with my best friend and classes had started and then someone missed us. When I first started school I took my collection of marbles to school but an older boy threw them in the moat.
Toilets The toilets were outside earth closets with no sinks to wash your hands. There was just an old sink in the porch where we could wash our hands. This was all changed after an attempt was made to close the school at the time that Christchurch school was replaced by Berry Hill Primary School. When this did not happen repairs were done to the school and modern toilet blocks built. While the work was being done some of the lessons took place in the church.
Vicar / Rectors visits The vicar would visit the school usually one day a week to talk about religion (really only Christianity). On Ascension Day he would visit then say we could have the rest of the day as Holiday. The teachers always rushed him so they could catch 9:30 bus to Ross.
Boats When I first started at school there was a Head Teacher Mrs Hoggard. She believed children should express themselves, ditches were dug in the playground flooded with water and we took wind up boats to school to sail them, we all got very dirty.
Playtime We all played together in the playground boys and girls together. We marked the edge of hoses with sticks girls swept with leaves, boys pretended to be Bakers etc delivering bread which were stones. We also took footballs and cricket kit to school after the field had been purchased.
Winter Snow The winters had more Snow than we have now and we used to take home made sleighs to school and run down the banks in the playing field. In this day we would not be at school and if we were there would be no sleighs as health and safety rules.
Characters in the Village
Village life threw up many characters or interesting people some of these included in these perhaps some related and in no particular order.
Bill Foster He was mainly remembered for his singing in the Church louder than anyone else and at his own pace whatever the music said.
Bill Tintern He lived in Common Grove and was a keen member of the Flower Show Committee, he was also grew apples and we would buy them in the autumn; he had a little dog who would catch the apples to eat them.
Trapper Tippins As the name implies he was out and about catching what he could find. We engaged him to try to catch a fox taking our chickens. Hus terrier killed some of our Chickens not quite what was expected.
Harold Price / Nelson Hemsley I have bracketed these two together as they were married to the Toomer sisters and were both great gardeners of flowers such as Dahlias and Chrysanthams and great rivals at the village flower shows.
PC Frank Nicholls Bobby Nichols to us kids the Policeman covering the village was based in Lydbrook. A giant of a man about 25 stone a six and a half feet tall he had a little car that would sink down on its suspension when he got in. The story always told was that he would book his own family this may have been a cruel story but who knows.
Squire Machen and his German Wife When I was small her was still the leading citizen of the village many of the residents paying rent for houses on the estate. He would usually be called upon to open events which took part in the village. His Wife was a talented artist and they built the house where John Bright lives now with a large picture window looking up the valley for her to paint. My Father used to like visiting as they conversed in German.
Harry Smith Former school headmaster and church organist for ever. I knew him as the village post master I used to visit with my Grandfather to get his pension and his ounce of Stansfields, the very strong tobacco he used in his pipe.
The Revd James (Jimmy Hutton) last Rector of English Bicknor My Father used to spend hours talking to Revd Hutton as there were many things only they could talk about for example only two in village who could read Hebrew. If the village needed any printing e.g. Draw Tickets or Programmes for Flower Shows these were always printed at “The Parish Press”. One other thing I remember about him was his penchant for old American Cars the huge ones with great big fins. He would drive these around the village at a sedate pace although I once remember jumping for my life off my bike when he came to close to me in one of his cars.
Min Griffiths This lady kept the village shop long before Fridges and Freezers, there were lollies but only the boiled sweat variety on a stick. If we wanted an Ice Cream went to Joyford Shop run by Fred Niblett where Electricity had arrived earlier.
Notes from the Meeting
ENGLISH BICKNOR LOCAL HISTORY GROUP
Richard Neubauer’s Memories of a Childhood
in the Forest of Dean
Meeting of 10th June 2010
Richard’s recollections of life in the village triggered memories for many at the meeting – tin baths in front of the fire; groceries delivered to the door and scalding milk and part-cooking meat in warm weather to stop it going off (no electricity meaning no fridges); the annual Sunday coach trip to Barry Island, Porthcawl, Weston Super Mare or Bristol Zoo. Games were played on the roads: ‘If we heard a car we would move our coat goalposts or tin drum wickets for the vehicle to pass’. School milk came from Sedbury Dairies for the morning break, and on cold days the milk was warmed up and each pupil brought a mixer for a hot mug – Richard had Bournvita. A rat infestation under the school – caused by rubbish tipping in the nearby castle moat - brought hepatitis and jaundice (which turns you yellow). Richard was seriously ill and off school for 9 weeks.
But most fascinating was his family background, with parents from very different social backgrounds: Mum from a large EB family, working as a cook at Bicknor Court and Courtfield; Dad from a wealthy Jewish family, playing football for Austria and managing the country’s equivalent of M&S. There is more on Richard’s father in The Parish of English Bicknor in the 20th Century.
Richard’s grandfather and Uncle Edgar were stonemasons. His uncle was a very large and very strong man. He walked at the weekend to the Forge Hammer Pub in Lydbrook where he sat in the corner quietly drinking. ‘One incident which I understand was part of local folklore was when two young men tried to cause a disturbance in the Forge he picked one up in each hand by the collar carried them out and dropped them outside the door.’
We had plenty to see at the break: Richard had brought along a vast array of photos, old newspapers, local finds, and objects such as a family war medallion and an ingenious device for carrying two buckets of water from the well without spilling a drop. Eric and Gillian Warden-Heggie recreated the stall they had taken to the local history fair at The Bell – many thanks to them for all the information they gave and contacts they made. CS