Jim Bentley’s memoirs Part 3 Village life

Weekly routine

Groceries were delivered fortnightly to the village; a man came round on a Tuesday to take your order and it was delivered ten days later on a Friday. If you had forgotten anything it was just too bad, you had to wait another fortnight or hope the village shop had it. The Baker’s van was horse drawn as was the Greengrocer’s dray pulled by a horse called Bob. Meat was delivered to all the houses twice a week and a fishmonger came once a week on a motorbike and sidecar.

We had to cycle to Lowdham or Southwell for a haircut; it cost 3d by hand clippers and 4d when electric clippers came in. We would also cycle to Lowdham to collect a recharged accumulator for the wireless. We used to get dog meat from Hoveringham; it was horse meat painted with a green dye to stop you using it to eke out the meat ration.

Special days

Sunday was always treated as Sunday with no work on the farm apart from the essential work like milking cows and feeding the animals. We all wore our Sunday best clothes and went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday school in the afternoon and evening service later. In the summertime families went for a long walk after church on Sunday evenings. In winter Sunday meant a fire in the front room, the piano was played, stories told and games played.

On Armistice Day every year the whole country came to a standstill for the two minute silence to remember the dead of the First World War. Everything stopped and everyone observed the silence, the majority gathering around the war memorials in every town and village. Before the war school holidays included Oak Apple Day on May 29th to celebrate King Charles hiding in an oak tree, Trafalgar Day on October 21st –the Battle of Trafalgar, Pancake Day and Empire Day.

The Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935 was celebrated in style with the villages dressing up with flags and bunting and holding sports and street parties; we even named one of our horses ‘ Jubilee’. Granddad Robert bought all the children in the village a Jubilee Mug; it was the last generous offer of his life as he died later that year. Two years later in 1937 the celebrations were all repeated at the coronation of George VI.

Coronation day 1937 Thurgarton

Games and hobbies

In pre-war days we played the usual football with jackets for goal posts, cricket with a rubber ball and stumps chalked on a wall and rounders. We also played tracking, fox and hounds, bowling a hoop (an old bike wheel without spokes), marbles, whip and top, cap guns, wheel barrows made from old pram wheels, conkers, roller skating, scootering, and cycling as far a field as Newark, Nottingham and on one day Doncaster. The games seemed to go in seasons. In spring it was skipping for the girls, marbles and whip and top for boys. In winter there was sliding on frozen ponds, sledging on Booker’s field, roller skating and tracking. In summer it was cricket and rounders and cycling and in autumn of course it was conkers and fox and hounds –a great time was had by all.

Collecting cigarette cards was a good hobby and every subject you could think of was represented : fish, flowers, trains, footballers, cricketers, animals, film stars, flags, ships and aeroplanes, to name a few. We used to go to a building site in Thurgarton on Sundays when the builders were off and collect almost a full set of cards from all the empty cigarette packets – a few swaps completed the set.

Train spotting , taking steam locomotive names and numbers, was a popular pastime. Newark was the place to go, to the LNER (London and North Eastern Railway) to see such famous engines as; The Flying Scotsman, The Mallard, Silver Link, Silver Fox, Sir Nigel Gresley and Silver Jubilee. Not many ‘Names’ passed through Thurgarton on the Derby to Lincoln line but quite a few could be seen at Nottingham Midland Station( London, Midland and Scottish Railway), especially the ‘City Class’ locomotives. Some Sundays ‘Uncle’ Harry , a train driver on the LNER, would take us to Colwick marshalling yards and give us rides on the steam loco around the yards. The engines were always coaled up and serviced on Sundays with grease gun, oil can and oily rag.

School holidays

School holidays were not all work on the farm. Fishing in the Beck we would catch eels, Bully Heads, Sticklebacks, Red Breasts, Silver Breasts, and minnows. Collecting tadpoles or newts from the various ponds around the village was also popular. We would go to see Mr Foster , the cobbler, to listen to his stories from the Great War or go to the blacksmiths shop to see Jack Milner and pump the bellows for the furnace to heat the horseshoes. One day one of our horses, Blossom, went to be shod and while Jack Milner had gone across the road to his house the horse walked home on her own and was found standing on the bridge with her head over the farm gate waiting for someone to open it.

Sometimes we visited Ernie Paling the joiner and wheelwright and watched him make coffins or repair wagon wheels. The railway station was another port of call to watch the steam pick-up which came every morning at eleven o’clock to collect or drop off trucks. The porter and signalmen always needed assistance to pull the levers for the points and signals. Mrs Statham at the village shop was another popular place where we could spend our pocket money – we could buy half penny worth of aniseed balls, liquorice, a packet of sherbet or chocolate drops.

Mrs Statham outside the village shop and post office 1937

Village entertainments

There were concerts, whist drives and dances at the ‘The Hut’ –the village hall which was an old WW1 army hut. The Harvest Supper was held every year as was the annual Parochial Tea at Christmas when all the villagers got together for a meal. Food was provided by all the village folk followed by a dance and entertainment. The village comedian was George Allwood who based his act on George Robey; then there was Aunt Alice who recited hilarious poems. The dance music was provided by local bands led by Jack Penson or Vic Cotton or Frank Whitehead – what a lot of talent there was around the area.

In 1935 Mr Ford who lived on the Park made a 16mm film all about Thurgarton and its inhabitants. Most of us were on that film which was always shown at the village dos in the Hut. He also invited all the village to his house on 5th November and put on a brilliant firework display and a large bonfire.

The Hut being painted by Fred Farrands

Entertainment outside the village

Other highlights of the year were Lowdham Flower Show in August, when the Borstal Boys from Lowdham Grange gave an excellent gymnastic display, Lowdham Feast in September, Newark May Fair and Nottingham Goose fair in October. The fair amusements ( supplied by Hibble and Mellors of Nottingham) included Gallopers, Dodgems, Noah’s Ark, Cake Walk and The Chair O’Planes. All were powered by electricity generated by those magnificent immaculate steam engines with their highly polished brasses. The noise , the smell of the steam and smoke, the fair organs pumping out their music, the brandy snaps, the coloured balls, swing boats, coconut shies – all these gave real character to the fairs of those days.

There were three cinemas in Newark ( Savoy, Palace and Kinema), the Ideal in Southwell and over forty in Nottingham. We regularly visited The Empire Theatre to see Variety Shows and Music hall including all the popular stars of the day such as George Formby, Gracie Fields, Rob Wilton, Stainless Stephen and Jack Warner. We saw such bands as Joe Loss, Geraldo, Billy Cotton, Troise and his Mandoliers, Big Bill Campbell and his Rocky Mountain Rhythm, Sid Millwall and his Nitwits . We went every year to the pantomime at Nottingham Theatre Royal which always had top stars like Arthur Askey and Max Wall.

A night out at the cinema would cost about 4 shillings – 1s for the train fare, and the cinema was from 9d to 1s 6d for a 3-4 hour programme of the main feature , a second B film , newsreels and cartoons as well as forthcoming attractions and trailers. Some also had a cinema organ which played for about 20 minutes and everyone joined in the sing song. Afterwards it was fish and chips, mushy peas, bread and butter and tea – all for 1s 6d  at  Newbolds Café. It wasn’t unusual in the war to see Italian POWs wandering around Newark on a Saturday night, walking or cycling.

Village school

Thurgarton school 1935 – Jim Bentley is in the centre of the front row

I spent 5 years at Thurgarton school which was a small school with two classrooms. Mrs Beech was the headmistress and taught the 10 to 14 year olds ( school leaving age), and Miss Ethel Fletcher ( Aunt Ethel, our Mum’s sister ) taught the 5 to 9 year olds so just two classes for all ages. As we lived next door to the school we went home every day for dinner. There was no gym or sports field so PT was done in the playground as was country dancing and the maypole. I remember Mrs Beech stepped back and fell over the Maypole stand and broke her arm so we had a temporary teacher from Nottingham who introduced us to Sir Julian Cahn – the great cricketer.

At Christmas we always had a party and a school play. Mr Nicholson , the school attendance officer, often visited the school and woe betide anyone who had been absent without good reason. The nit nurse was also a regular visitor complete with nit comb to check everyone’s hair. The worst week of the year was the arrival of the school dentist in his caravan and his foot powered treadle drill to do the fillings.

The Minster school

I took the 11plus at Barnby Road School in Newark but failed, so dad paid for me to go to Southwell Minster School for boys – the fee was £4-11s per term. Discipline was strict. The cane or walking stick or ruler was the order of the day depending on the master’s taste, as was the degree of punishment to be meted out – it was a powerful deterrent. I remember two boys being expelled for smoking in the toilets ; they were brought in front of the whole school and expelled on the spot. We heard later that one of them had been killed in action in the war.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we had to stay late for rugby, cricket or cross country running depending on the season and we still had homework to do after returning home at seven. I wasn’t a boarder and cycled eight miles there and back each day in all weathers. We had to go to school on Saturday mornings until 1 o’clock  and one of the worst punishments was being kept in detention on Saturday afternoon. There were about 100 boys at the school in five forms and this doubled when the evacuees arrived from Worthing School began at 9.30 am with a walk to the Minster each morning for prayers and hymns. One of the boys, Roy Long, played the Minster organ; he was a brilliant pianist and organist from the age of twelve.

At lunchtime we were allowed to go into Southwell and all headed for Mosedales the Bakers for a penny currant bun and a penny bar of nestles chocolate. On Fridays as a treat we went to Jones the Bakers for a cream bun. One day I was walking back to school with cream bun in hand behind my back when a dog pinched it out of my hand.  School dinners were 9d and consisted of lots of baked potatoes, corned beef, prunes and rice, prunes and custard, or just prunes. During the war more school dinners ended up in the static water tank than were eaten and rice puddings were flicked onto the ceilings.

Every spring we had a  race from Southwell to Bleasby , Morton and back. The school masters rode on bikes and once John Carding and I were walking along this road when we were suppose to be running and the French Master came along on his bike and caught us; he took a pin out of his lapel and kept jabbing our backsides to keep us running – we ran off across a field and then went back to walking  – he kept shouting at us and we were disqualified.

School days were not the happiest days of my life as we were always being told off – they spoilt a wonderful childhood.

Jim Bentley, Margaret Allwood ( Reeves) and Mary Bentley

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