"The Winsham I Remember"


You must bear in mind that the night life of the village at this time was very hectic. The shops didn't close until seven o'clock in the evening on weekdays and ten o'clock on Saturdays. Street lights were lit at seven o'clock and put out at ten o'clock every evening. Saturday night was always quite an evening with the youngsters racing the streets until the lights were put out, shops were all alight, people were busy doing their shopping, the pubs full up, the Jubilee Hall preparing for the Bob-hop with the band turning up, and the floor being prepared, and the arrival of the outsiders, mostly on foot. Saturday night in Winsham at this time, was some night, and it was not unusual for a fight to be thrown in, as an extra, but there were never any lives lost, or enemies made, nothing that a couple of beers wouldn't put right.

We had our own Policeman to maintain law and order, which he did. He had his own self contained Police Station, had set beats, points to meet, and he ruled the youngsters with an iron hand. We all respected the law. Mr Redwood was his name, and he was stationed here for many years, and brought up a large and popular family. As well as the Police Station there was a lock-up, although it was never used in my time. It was situated about one hundred yards up Colham Lane, on the left hand side, and the entrance is still there to this day. 

We had everything in the village in those days. We had a properly self-contained Post Office, which dealt with nothing but general Post Office work. Mr Sylvester was the Post Master and he carried out his duties very efficiently and with the strictest of secrecy. He took his job very seriously, and it was a very busy place. The amount of telegrams was such that it took a full time uniformed boy to deal with them, due of course to the fact that this was the main source of immediate communication, as telephones were unheard of. Mr Sylvester would always advise the senders how to word them, as the price was based on the number of words, and to save a few coppers meant a great deal to everyone. I also remember his wife, and she gave him able assistance. She was a very short woman, but a most gracious old lady. There were two uniformed postmen, besides one or two sub-postmen, giving us two deliveries a day, including one in the evening. The Post Office was situated in Church Street, between what is now the General Store and The Bell Inn, the Barbers shop was in Back Street, on the corner at the junction of Colham Lane, and was run by a man named Bert Gill. There was also a shop in Western Way, run by the Courtney's. The Harness Makers was next door to the Bell, adjoining the pub yard. 

There were seven shops of one kind or another. Three grocers shops, a general store, a newsagents-cum-drapery and the barbers (haircut and shave, complete, three halfpence). There were five boot makers, who would measure your feet and make a pair of boots complete, three bakers that all made daily deliveries, and two milkmen, who also delivered to the door, and measured out the milk in front of you. We also had the services of a chimney sweep, and a resident district nurse. She acted as nurse and doctor to us all. 

I can remember a Dutch woman being here for many years, living opposite the church in the "Blue House" as it has always been known. Her name was Nurse Van Vyven, she was a wonderful woman and won the respect of us all. In those days you paid into a scheme known as "The Nurses Association" which entitled you to the services, without further payment, on the occasion of need. 

In Boait's, the middle shop, one of their specialities was salt fish, and they did a fair business with this every Saturday night, as it was a very popular Sunday morning breakfast. You had to soak it all night as it was as hard as board, and by the morning it would be just right for cooking, the salt having preserved all the true flavour of the fresh caught cod, straight from the sea. People of our day and age, grew up with salt, and this was the chief ingredient for preserving anything, and still today, us old people still like to taste a bit of salt. 

The shop of David Andrews was a bit of a mystery. I was quite young when I first entered the shop, and I recall the occasion as a friend of the family was staying with us from Wales. He had earlier moved away from the village and at different times he would come and stay with us for a holiday. On this particular day, he and I were taking a walk around the village, when he took me into the shop, I know the very day, it was June 6th, 1909, and I was nine years of age. The reason I remember is that he purchased a marked testament, and presented me with it, and I still have it. I have never seen another copy in all the years since that time and it is a very treasured possession. I also keep the Bible presented to me by the Church Sunday School for regular attendance.

Also in the village at that time was a harness makers' shop where you could order, and have made on the premises, a full set of harness, or he could equally as skilfully cut you out a stout pair of leather braces. Jack Masters was the man who owned the shop and was a renowned harness maker. He was kept very busy making and repairing harness, as well as repairing horses collars, for the farmers for miles around. We had our own butchers shop and there was a choice of three bake houses, where on Sundays, for a penny, you could have your dinner cooked, or a cake or tart baked for a half penny. 

We had a basket maker called George Brown, who in his younger days was the village milkman. George cut his own withies, dried them, and made clothes baskets, bushel baskets, and shopping baskets. You just told George exactly what you wanted, and it was made to your personal choice. 

While we are discussing the one man business concerns it would not be right to pass on without adding a few words about the Undertaker. He was a very competent man, and always referred to the deceased as his brother, or sister. The man I am referring to is George Peadon, a great character if ever there was one. He had many quaint sayings, and his great friend, and equally as great a character as George, was Herb Wheaton. He was a man with a great heart who loved the underdog. If ever there were a real life Mutt and Jeff, it was these two. George owned a cider press, and cider house, it was one of two in the village, although many of the outlying farms made their own. The other one was owned by Willie Raisen, and was located at Stuckeys farm, at the top of the village. Now going back to George, and his profession as undertaker, he was talking to Herb one day when he happened to remark that he wouldn't ever mind dying, but he would very much like to know where it was going to happen. Herb replied "What does it matter where you die?" and George said "If I knew exactly where I was going to die I wouldn't go near, nor nigh, the place". This tickled Herb, and it was sayings like this that were recalled by him many years later. They would usually stay in the top pub, that was run by George's mother, until closing time, and then adjourn to George's cellar. On arrival, George would draw off horns of cider, (they always drank cider from horns in those days) and he would say to Herb "Here you are Herb, drink hearty, good times like these can't last for ever". How right he was. 

Now Herb farmed at the bottom of the village, where his son still farms to this day, and in those days when things were not so good, we ate a lot of swedes, and so we earned ourselves the name of Swede bashers, and whenever Herb was going down through the village, he knew all the houses that would appreciate a swede, and a couple were left in the doorways as the old horse slowly moved down the main street. The Wheaton family are one of the real old Winsham families, Herb's father, Sydney Wheaton, was a well known cattle dealer, a smart dapper little man who often had a red rose in his buttonhole. It now comes to mind that when Sydney died, my dear old mother was sent for, to lay him out. This was a service she rendered to many of the people who passed away in the village, and on this occasion Fred Harris, the chap who used to drive him around, called at our house to say that it was Sydney's last wish that mother should be sent for to perform this last duty. Although this was always a labour of love, on this occasion she was rewarded with a golden sovereign which Sydney had left for the purpose. 

One other notable character of the time and who deserves a mention, was "Scuffler". he was known by this name as you knew him by his walk, even if he passed by in the dead of night. He was, in fact, Tom Spurdle the Veterinary Surgeon, not by any qualification but by self study and a lifetime of practice. I know his services were much sought after from farms for miles around. He had a very old pony and trap, but more often than not they would come and fetch him, and bring him home, after he had rendered his services. He would be called out at all hours of the day, or night, and would often travel long distances, such was his reputation. He was also as much a doctor as a vet, and many old people went to him with aches and pains, and he in turn gave them oils or ointment to rub in. Many people had more faith in him than they did the doctor, and those who used the doctor, often used Tom for a second opinion. White Oils, or horse oils, was one of the sought after remedies, and many people kept a bottle in the house that had been supplied by Tom. One of the few remaining places in the village to retain any of the character of yesteryear is Churchill's yard.

Although it has passed from the family it will always be known, and remembered, as Churchill's yard. It has always been a public place, where people met to pass the time of day, and to meet old friends, and talk about the past. Children of our times were brought up in the yard. In those days it was a thriving blacksmiths shop, and forge, and employed five men, who worked, from eight o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night.

As years have passed, and times have changed, it has progressed into a garage cum blacksmiths. It is there to give service, and it still does, as the lad that owns it was brought up under the Churchill guidance, and it is expected of him to carry on the tradition. I recall a newcomer to the village saying on one occasion "This isn't a garage, it's an institution". How right he was.

In the old days you were only expected to pay what you could afford, and if you had no money at all, the work was done just the same. The Churchill family derived their entire happiness from life, just by being able to help other people, and this tradition was passed on from father to son. This was not the only shoeing smith in the village, because Charlie Spurdle carried on a similar business further down the street, but this was a much more modest concern, and was neither as large, or as busy, as Churchills. 

We later moved to The Manor House, next to the Kings Arms, and this house had in bygone days been associated with the Manor Farm. It was also the place where the tithes were collected, and the pulleys which were used to lower the goods into the cellars, through the large cellar flaps, are still in evidence today. It is probably the only house in the village with cellars.

The other points of interest left in the village of particular significance are the market cross and the lamp-post at the bottom of the village. The market cross, some people say, has some religious background, but be that what it may, there is very little to be gleaned about its history, although I did once read in a London library that the base was very much older than the cross, but that was about all the information that was available. As a market cross, even in my time, I have seen it put to that use. As a boy I can recall Cheap-Jacks, (For the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with the term Cheap-Jack, I will explain that he is the direct opposite of an auctioneer, who starts the bidding at the lowest price, and finally accepts the last, and highest bid, whereas the Cheap-Jack will start at the highest price, and accept the first bid that is offered) setting up their stands around the cross to sell their wares.

The most popular commodities were china and glass, which were not so readily available in the village. The sale would normally start at about eight o'clock in the evening and all the goods would be laid out all over the road, completely blocking Back Street. In those days, when baths were unknown, wash hand sets were a very popular wedding present, as were sets of jugs, and these were always prominent. I remember on one occasion, one of the Cheap-Jacks was trying to sell chamber pots, but was finding the going rather difficult, when he suddenly realised that the people might be shy of taking this commodity away with them, so from that point onwards he carefully wrapped each one up in newspaper, and this greatly improved the situation. I have since wondered if the people claimed a right to sell their wares by the market cross in much the same way as is done in nearby Crewkerne, at the time of their annual fair. On this occasion the whole of the centre of the town is completely blocked, including the main trunk road, and I am told it would take an Act of Parliament to stop these people holding their fair. 

Now the lamp-post at the bottom of the village, which is still standing, and in good condition, was added to the street lighting and sited there by Colonel Henley to light the way for Mary Paull to come to Church on Sunday evenings. She lived in Court Street, although her house no longer exists, but she was of a great age, and a very devoted Church goer. 

The Pound, which vanished many years ago, was in Western Way, on the left hand side, where the first bungalow was erected, and the cottage beside it, which is now used as a garage, was occupied by a widow woman named Mrs Webber. One other point of interest I must mention are the cottages in Fore Street, known as "The Barracks", and occupied by the Loaring family, one of the oldest families in the village, and the very first entry in the Church Register.

Why these cottages are called The Barracks are, I believe, to have their origins dated back to the time of the Monmouth rebellion when Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis, on what is now called Monmouth Beach with his army, who marched all the way to Sedgemoor where they were well beaten. During the march from Lyme Regis, Monmouth was recruiting all the time, and I understand that Major Pinney, who was occupying Racedown House at the time, and who was a great Royalist supporter, supplied many hands from his estate for the cause. The army marched through Marshwood and Racedown to Coles Cross and then down through Laymore, to Axewater, where they would have gone up around Wynyard Lane to enter the village through Court Street, as the main road up into the village from Axewater was made at a much later date. (It was in fact built, together, with the road from Winsham to Whatley Bottom, in the late eighteen hundreds). I have heard my Grandmother say as to how my Grandfather worked on the project. The army would, of course, take the main road out of the village, prior to that time, which was up Colham Lane, and on to Windwhistle, where they made their headquarters, prior to the battle of Sedgemoor. It was at this time the army had some connection with the cottages, they were in all probability commandeered, and the name "The Barracks" dates from this time. 

At this time there was only one other road out of the village to Chard, and this was Leigh Lane. The real name of the main road, built to connect the village with Whatley Bottom, and so on to Chard, through the Cutting, is in fact "New Road", although it had for years been known simply as "Cutting". While we are dealing with this part of the village, it might be an appropriate time to mention Whatley Mill, which was situated in Whatley Bottom, and was one of two flour mills still in regular operation in living memory. It was owned and operated for a long time by a man named Harvey. The Old Mill site still exists today, and there is a very picturesque little lane leading out to it. The Mill stream is still in evidence. This Mill was a very flourishing business in my time, and grain of all kinds were crushed, and ground, and cattle food served to all the local farms. Of course all the power was derived from the water wheel, and the stones revolved from early morning, until late evening. This valley has always been a romantic spot, and for years the song of the nightingale drew people from the village, just to listen. The shrill cry of a barking fox was also very common in this area, where there was plenty of natural cover. It was a place to go to find peace. Further along, perhaps a mile or so, was another mill, known as Ammerham Mill. This place was owned by Willie Welch, and his brother, and was much about the same as Whatley Mill, and was also very busy, always working to capacity. (The only mill of its kind still in operation is the nearby Clapton Mill).

I can recall two instances of a circus, with the big top, coming to Winsham. In one instance the site was at the top of High Street, in the field known as Walnut Field, at the junction of Ebdon Lane. On this occasion there was an added attraction of a giant rat being on show. Supposedly the largest in the world, and caught in the docks of Liverpool. The charge to view amounted to an extra penny. The other occasion a circus visited the village, the site was in Colham Lane, and again by a strange coincidence in a field known as Walnut Field. Walnut trees grew in both these fields at the time.



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This page revised 16 May 2009