SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 4
Sid was a real wit and always had a smile on his face and a joke on the tip of his tongue.
One morning when he and several of his colleagues were waiting for the transport to pick them up from the village to take them to work, down through the village came a stranger. With his brief case, umbrella and very smart clothes, he looked completely out of place in Berrynarbor at that time. He knocked on the door of one of the cottages.
"T'is no good knocking on that door," piped up Sid. "Theyem all out except for the clock and even ee be gwain!"
At this remark, Sid and his fellow workers fell about laughing - it's not what you say but the way that you say it! The poor man, thinking he had met all the village idiots in one go, turned about and beat a hasty retreat.
Sid and his Wife Flo
One lovely summer evening, the lads from the village including Gerald and his cousin Frank Huxtable, known as 'Laddie', and any visitors who wanted to join in, were playing a game of cricket in the field opposite Middle Lee Farm. As was usual, a small group gathered to watch and they were joined towards the end by William Draper or 'Muxey' as he was known. Muxey was a very good gardener and used to till the land up the lane behind Middle Lee, now known as Thirkles Field. He used donkeys to do the ploughing.
On this occasion Muxey was carrying a basket in which he had some of his produce and the vegetables were admired by everyone gathered.
A few days later Gerald met up with the very chipper Frank who told him he had won first prize at Combe Martin Horticultural Show. Gerald was somewhat surprised, knowing that Frank wasn't in to gardening let alone growing vegetables.
With a wink, Frank told Gerald that he had crept up to Muxey's field at dusk and pinched some of his carrots, entering the best of them in the Show, thus winning the first prize and pocketing some very welcome prize money!
ARTHUR [TIDDLY] EDWARDS
Although Tiddles was not the brightest lad, he commanded a great respect from his peers for his sporting ability - he was simply the best at football, cricket, darts, snooker and skittles. And he could also run very fast. Everyone wanted Tiddles on their team.
He amazed his friends by throwing a stone at the church clock, stopping the hands at !
Once, when The Globe was being renovated and the builders had some sand delivered, a large tipper lorry emptied a mountain of sand in the car park at the rear of the pub. What a wonderful playground for the village lads! They put some planks up each side of the heap and on their old bikes raced down from the Manor Hall and up and over the sand, Time and time again they raced until one of the lads removed the plank. Unknown to Tiddles, who was in front, he hit the pile of sand, the front wheel stuck fast and he flew over the top, landing flat on his back, somewhat dazed, on the other side.
There was another occasion when Tiddles ended up on his back. Tiddles exercised Bebe, Ivor Richards' pony. Like a lot of ponies, Bebe had to be pushed to go anywhere, but once turned for home, quickened her pace, especially with a novice rider on her back. Tiddles had ridden Bebe up through the Valley, turning about mid-way to come back. Bebe then gained pace until she was cantering through two rocks, the noise from her hooves echoing and Tiddles shouting. Rosie Bray was in her garden, half way up Jan Braggs Hill, and could hear the racket. She went to the gate just in time to see the horse fly past, over the brow of the hill it went and down through lower town, with the noise still echoing around. A swift turn up Castle Hill heading to her stable and food. But alas for poor Tiddles, the wind had blown the top stable door shut - no problem for Bebe but Tiddles came a cropper!
SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 3
Bert lived at the far end of Goosewell, near Hole Farm. As were a lot of farm workers, Bert was usually to be seen with a sack tied around him, especially in the winter. Bert owned a horse but the grazing in his field was not very good. So, when it got dark, Bert would take his horse and put it in with his neighbour's to get some good grazing. Before daylight, he would remove it again and no one was ever the wiser! And they say country folks are dim!
George, Dr. Head and Whiskers
In the '50's, George and Dr. Head were gentlemen of the road, or tramps as they were known before PC. They lived at the start of the old coast road in what was part of the old lime kiln, well hidden from the road. Each had a bed of dried leaves under the over-hanging rocks and a stone fire circle with a very black kettle, and some tree trunks on which they sat.
George never ventured far from the village, knowing where he could call to get a welcome cup of tea, a meal or some left over food, even some milk in his can for later. Dr. Head would travel farther afield and would sometimes be seen at Berrydown, Combe Martin or even West down, but he always returned after a few days. They seemed to get along together very well and being given hand-me-down blankets, coats, boots, socks and shoes made their chosen way of life a little more comfortable.
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
One day, when George arrived back at their 'camp' there was a stranger on the scene - Whiskers, as he later became known. All hell broke loose and when Dr. Head arrived back and joined in things got worse! They were shouting and throwing large stones at each other and making such a commotion that a passer-by went in to the Sawmills and phoned the police, who arrived in force and calmed the situation down. George and Dr. Head grudgingly allowed Whiskers to stay. Like Dr. Head, Whiskers also tended to travel further afield.
George and Dr. Head were an accepted part of the community and most people, including the children, would pass the time of day with them. Whiskers never seemed to fit in and the children would run away if they saw him coming.
In his later years, George moved in to Ilfracombe but he was not forgotten by some of the villagers who when they went in to Ilfracombe would look out for him and give him some money for a cup of tea or a packet of cigarettes.
SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 2
Dan and Lizzie Toms
Dan and his wife lived in Dormer House from where he used to keep a sharp eye on the young village lads, often 'phoning the police if he thought they were up to mischief.
One winter, after it had snowed heavily and the lads were having a grand time, Dan thought things were getting out of hand and decided to ring the police. As his home phone wasn't working, he had to use the public one, which at that time was sited where the bus shelter is now. Puffing on his pipe and muttering 'I'll put a stop to this', Dan made his way across to the 'phone box, dodging a few snowballs as he went. But, while he was making his call, the lads built up a large supply of snowballs and were waiting patiently for him to emerge; one even went up to the church and got on the roof of the 'phone box. His call finished, Dan opened the door, when an avalanche of snow was pushed off the box and a volley of snowballs came from the front. Dan hastily went back, shutting the door, and was now trapped inside by the lads. His pipe had got wet and gone out and there he had to stay until the lads decided to go and find some other sport!
Dan's wife Lizzie took in visitors and ran the cafe, so there was always washing to be done. She used to hang her lovely white table cloths, bed linen and towels on the grass area between the garage by The Globe and Tower Cottage. Often the village children would be playing football on the Manor Hall grass and many a time the muddy ball would hit the washing, and poor Lizzie would have to wash it all again!
In his article 'Old Berrynarbor - View No. 21' in February 1993, Tom wrote about Dan and Lizzie Toms and their children Reg and Vi, and included a photographic postcard of the family outside their home Woodvale in the Valley.
Photo reproduced from
Newsletter No. 22.
From Woodvale, the family moved to Middle Lee, where Lizzie sold full Devonshire Cream Teas to visitors who would arrive by Royal Red coach from Ilfracombe. When ill health forced Dan to give up farming, he and Lizzie moved into Dormer House, now Miss Muffet's and Dormer Cottage.
In October 2001, in his 'View No. 73', Tom showed a postcard from his collection entitled 'Tom's Tea Room, Steerage Valley', showing Dan Toms standing in the doorway of Middle Lee Farm, reproduced here.
SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 1
Local characters all contributed to the fabric of the village and the fact that they are remembered many years later is a tribute to them.
Alfie Leworthy was known to most of the village children in the 1950's as 'Uncle Alfie'.
George Geen and Frank Meluish
worked for the Council, trimming hedges, clearing ditches and gutters and
keeping the verges and the parish very tidy.
The children were always pleased to see them working in the village as
Alfie would save the
One day the three had just sat down to have their lunch in the field at the bottom of Ridge Hill, when several children descended on them, one of whom was Larry White. Now Larry loved the beautiful grey horse which belonged to Sheila Jones. Alfie told him he had a plan which was for Larry to go and find some black paint and then he would help him paint the horse black so that he could take it home! Off went Larry and his friends in search of black paint. However, when the grown-ups found out why they wanted the paint, they were sent off with a flea in their ears!
Undeterred, Larry went to Miss Cooper's to see if he could buy some. No luck! By the time he got back to the field, Alfie, George and Frank had had a quiet lunch and the horse a lucky escape!
Alfie and his wife Vera
Farmer Will Lerwill
Farmer Will lived at Lower Rowes Farm and was a familiar sight riding up and down the Valley on his pony.
One day he decided he needed a pig, so he and a friend managed to hitch a lift to Blackmoor Gate market, where they purchased a fine looking one. Now to get the pig home they had to walk, and all was going well when they reached the London Inn in Combe Martin. Will and his friend were thirsty, so they made a sort of harness from a rope and tied the pig to the drain pipe. They were just downing their second welcome pint when there was a commotion and someone shouted, "Anyone in 'ere got a pig, 'cos ee's just run down road dragging a drain pipe."
The two friends dashed out and down the street, looking for the pig. When they got to the Pack O' Cards, they just had to go in and see if anyone had seen the pig and grab another drink - it was thirsty work chasing a pig! By this time, the pig and drain pipe were causing some excitement in the street and were well on their way to the beach where watched by quite a crowd, farmer Will caught up with it. The rest of the journey back to Berrynarbor was uneventful, but they didn't stop at The Globe, just in case!
Farmer Will would also ride his pony to Hele for a drink. After a number of occasions when being helped up on one side of the pony he fell off the other, he decided to leave the pony in Higher Oaklands and catch the bus or hitch a lift in to Hele. In the early '60's, Dave Yeo had a Lambretta scooter and he would pick up Farmer Will from Hele. They were quite a sight with Will waving his crop and calling to people as he passed by on the back of the scooter.
Farmer Will was a regular at The Globe, always sitting under the frying pan clock and amusing both locals and visitors with his tales.
Ivor Richards, who lived at Moules Farm, kept a fine cockerel. It had large spurs on its legs and strutted on the road outside the farm as though it owned it! Woe betide anyone who got in his way. The cockerel would charge at their legs and had even been known to draw blood.
Behind the farm was a field, called Hospital Field [local legend has it that it was the burial ground many years before for donkeys and horses]. Being very flat, it was ideal for playing cricket and many a visitor was challenged to a game up there.
One day, the boys were walking home after such a game, and as they got close to the farm they spied the dreaded cockerel. One lad picked up a stone and threw it quite close to it to scare it, but to no avail, it kept coming towards them. Arthur [who we met in the Ghost story in the April issue], was with the boys and he picked up a stone and threw it, hitting the cockerel on the leg, which broke.
Well, the noise and commotion brought Ivor on the scene, at which the lads all began denying that they had thrown the stone, but Arthur said: "All right, I'll pay for the bu**er, it was worth it"!
The boys had gathered at Billy Smith's to decide how to spend the day. It was decided that bird nesting would be the order of the day and so they set off to the glen between Glen Lee and Hill Barton, going the long way round which took them up the lane behind Middle Lee.
the fields below
Morna's family ran a market garden from Glen Lee and the
strawberries would be put in punnets before being
sent to market or Morna would sit outside Woolworth's
The strawberries looked large, red and delicious. How the boys' mouths watered! They signalled to each other to keep quiet and went on their way. Once out of earshot they agreed that a visit to the garden was a must!
When it was time to go home after their day of fun up in the glen, they returned the same way, pushing through the hedge and in to the garden. The smell of the ripe strawberries . . . oh, how delicious they were. There was also a row of peas, all plump and ready for picking, just waiting to be eaten. They, too, went down a treat!
Feeling full and contented, the boys made their way home, agreeing that a return visit would be a wonderful experience. So, at dusk, a few days later, they made their way up the lane and through the hedge again. They had only picked a few strawberries when one of the boys let out an almighty scream. He had put his hand down to pick a strawberry and had caught it in a gin trap which been tilled to catch thieving varmints, both two or four legged! It was very lucky that the boy's father was a trapper and had taught him how to deal with traps because his accomplices fled the scene leaving him to fend for himself.
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
Gerald and Charlie Floyd decided they would go to visit Kate Diamond who lived at Rowes Farm. Kate's white cat took a liking to Gerald, purring and rubbing itself against him. Kate asked Gerald if he would like the cat, and as Gerald's cat had died just a few weeks earlier, he said he would. Kate found a box and the cat was placed in it and the boys went on their way home with their precious load. Charlie lived at Blind Will's, which is only a stone's throw from Rowes Farm and as they were going past his house, he decided he needed to go in and get something, So up the steep steps they went but as they reached the house it began to rain. Charlie suggested it would be a good idea to wait for the rain to stop before they walked on to Gerald's home in the village.
The cat was making a lot of noise at being shut in the box and Gerald wondered what to do about it. Charlie told him to let it out as there was nowhere it could go in the kitchen, and it would be quite safe.
Well, when the box was opened the cat sprang out in a flash and frantically dashed for the window leapt up
the curtains and pulled them down. This scared it even more, and it chased around the room before racing to the fireplace and disappearing up the chimney in a cloud of soot which billowed out in to the room.
At this point Charlie's father Jim, home from work, arrived on the scene and as it was skittles night, he needed to be quick with his meal to be ready when George Diamond called to give him a lift to Ilfracombe,
and decided he would have a quick fry up in the pan on the fire for his meal. At this, Gerald and Charlie didn't know whether to own up or keep quiet - keeping quiet was the easy answer. Jim put the pan on the fire which must have made the frightened cat move further up the chimney, and down came another cloud of soot, filling the pan! Jim began cursing the birds that must be up the chimney, whilst Gerald and Charlie raced outside, trying hard not to laugh, or even worse, cry! Just at that moment, the cat emerged from the chimney and it definitely was not white any more! It climbed down the roof, jumped in to the trees and headed back towards Rowes Farm.
At that moment there was a hooting of a car horn, George in his Austin Seven was at the bottom of the steps, so poor old Jim had to rush off without any supper.
Firework day was huge excitement for the boys and on this particular Guy Fawkes Day Gerald was about 8. The boys met in the village and together let off their penny [1d] bangers. When they had no more, they made their way to Billy Smith's house at Middle Lee Farm. Billy loved fireworks so much that he saved all his pocket money, and did odd jobs to get more money to buy them.
This year, the boys had built a bonfire up on Lee hills above the farm. The old gorse had been cut down and a monster of a bonfire had been built. Billy's father grew potatoes, so there were plenty to put in the fire to cook.
The boys arrived at Billy's to find a great big hamper filled with fireworks - all shapes and sizes, more fireworks than they had ever seen before! It took two of them to carry it up the lane towards the bonfire, and they couldn't resist letting a few off on the way. Then disaster struck! A spark got in the hamper and all the fireworks blew up. There were rockets, jumping jacks and Catherine wheels whizzing everywhere; bangers echoing in the night air, Roman candles intensely bright, lighting up the night sky and children diving for cover. It was all over in just a few minutes, leaving a very crestfallen Billy.
On another firework night Tilly Delbridge had put her milk can out ready for Lester Bowden to fill it with milk in the morning. The can had a saucer on the top. One of the boys put a jumping jack in the can and replaced the saucer which jumped up and down, much to the amusement of the other boys.
One winter, the boys built themselves a wooden sledge. It was a beauty, about 8 feet long, and Norman [Richards] obtained the steel for the runners - the rims of old cart wheels. Four boys could ride on the sledge at one time.
One day, after a very heavy snow fall, Mr. Sid Dummett, who lived at South Lee, couldn't get his horse and cart up Ridge Hill to collect the mangolds with which to feed the stock he kept at South Lee.
So, he asked the boys if they would go up to the mangold cave [pit], which was half way up Ridge Hill, and fill some 'West of England' sacks with mangolds and bring them down on the sledge. Always up for a challenge, the boys were quick to respond.
After a hard pull up the hill, they filled the first couple of sacks and loaded them on the sledge. With a good hard shove, off they set, down the hill like a rocket! A sharp left turn at the Rectory into Jan Braggs Hill, with snow spraying from the boys' boots as they tried to slow the sledge down a little, and with a right turn into Blind Lane, the sledge flew out of the end of Blind Lane and came to a halt very close to South Lee.
The older residents of the area were aghast!
The boys returned up the hill to collect more mangolds. But, in the meantime, the delivery men from Cleaves, the baker from Combe Martin, couldn't get beyond Sandy Cove with their van to deliver the bread and cakes, and had decided to walk into the village carrying their wares in big wicker baskets to sell to their customers. At the same time, the concerned locals decided it was time to halt the boys and their sledge.
Bill Blackmore, who lived at Little Sanctuary, unfortunately had a stutter, heard the sledge and the boys coming down Ridge Hill again, and said, "I'll stop the b b b------!" and threw a shovel of hot cinders and ashes on the road. However, on went the sledge undeterred, only to scatter the poor men who had walked from Sandy Cove with the bread. Cakes and bread spilled all over the place, and the rolls rolled down Jan Braggs hill almost a fast as the sledge!
Again, the boys took the route down Blind lane but someone had shovelled up the snow at the bottom to block the exit and to try and stop them. All to no avail - the loose snow scattered everywhere and the sledge again came to rest at South Lee.
Sid got his stock fed; the boys got some extra pocket money from Sid and the locals talked about the escapade for days!
else to encounter the sledge was Les Toms.
Les lived on the corner of
Hill runs down from
Arthur Edwards, or Tiddly Edwards as he was known locally, lived on Castle Hill.
One evening he had been in to Ilfracombe to play bingo, at which he won some money, and after catching the bus back to Berrynarbor with his pockets full of his winnings, he decided to go to the pub for a drink.
There were the usual lads in the bar and, like the beer, the banter was soon flowing. One of the lads told Arthur that he'd seen a ghost up in the churchyard, but Arthur was having none of it. He said he didn't believe in ghosts, However, the lad told Arthur that if he went up into the churchyard and touched seven grave stones then he would see a ghost. Still protesting that there was no such thing, Arthur reluctantly agreed to go and touch the seven grave stones.
Off he went with the lads following but they remained at the lych gate, trying not to laugh. When Arthur got to the seventh grave, he hitched his toe and fell over, his winnings spilled out of his pocket but that was enough for Arthur, he took off out of the churchyard and up Castle Hill like a bat out of hell. He returned next day to retrieve his money!
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
Farmer George Irwin of Hill Barton had a sow that kept eating her young and so he decided she would have to go.
Market day arrived and George, Gerald and a friend prepared a trailer for the sow and hitched it up behind the Landrover. Whilst George went off to get dressed ready for going to Barnstaple Market, the boys were left coaxing the sow into the trailer. Suddenly she took it into her head to make a run for it just as George was coming along in his best suit. He tried to stop her but she ran straight at him as he stood with his arms and legs spread wide. George ended up sitting backwards on her back as she charged through a small pond where he was deposited. His suit was filthy, his temper frayed and the air blue!
George changed his suit, the sow was loaded and off to market she did go!
Farmer George has an evacuee boy called Peter Allen living at the farm, and he and Gerald became friends.
George has a horse that had just foaled and she was in a field the boys used to take as a short cut. They were warned not to go through the field, but Peter had to go to Miss Cooper's - the village stores - on an errand and on the way back he told Gerald he was going to take the short cut. Gerald was a bit scared and wanted to go the long way round, but Peter was having none of it and so Gerald gave in. They were just going through the hunter gate into the field when the horse, which was at the top of the hill, spotted them and came galloping down, ears back, nostrils flared and what looked to Gerald huge teeth bared. She kicked out with her hind legs and sent poor Peter over the telegraph wire.
Scared to death, Gerald fled the scene, and Peter got the beating of his live from George!
To have some fun, the local lads decided that a scrambler was called for. The local paper was scoured and a likely sounding bike was to be had at Filleigh. All the boys put forward their share of the cost and Roderick Long went to collect the bike.
Great anticipation and excitement abounded when they took the bike up to Leonard Bowden's farm at Ruggaton. There they took it in turns to ride the bike in one of the fields.
It was Billy Toms turn when the throttle stuck fast. Billy thought the only thing to do was to ride it until it ran out of petrol. But, as the tank was nearly full, this was going to take some time. Riding at quite a speed, he lost complete control and ended up in Leonard's potato field which was ready for digging. With potatoes shooting everywhere, like bullets from a gun, Billy clung on for dear life, much to the amazement of the others.
Illustrations by Paul Swailes