Stella Claringbold’s Brentor

In early 1980 Stella Claringbold, born in 1915 and a resident of Brentor, wrote her memories of Brentor for the newly- instigated Brentor News, our local news sheet.  They are reproduced below and are an evocative picture of life in Brentor in the early 1920s and beyond.

THE BRENTOR OF YESTERYEAR
by Stella Claringbold.

It has been suggested that I write about Brentor as I can recall it between fifty five and sixty years ago, so I will endeavour to record village life as I remember it then.

Come with me to the school then, where there were between forty and fifty pupils and two teachers – a headmistress and an infants’ teacher. When I was between five and six years I remember vividly being told to instruct the little girl who shared my desk in the art of knitting (She is now Mrs Elsie Downing). We had thick wooden needles and thick wool and my instructions were “In, out, through, off”.

Being a Church of England school the vicar was a regular visitor. I recall one such gentleman being at our annual Christmas party when a ‘question and answers game’ as in progress. To the question “How old am I?” a pupil had written 92!! Not complimentary to the vicar – I don’t suppose he was more than fifty years of age!

What a lovely aroma comes from the bakery as we skip along on our way home from school. There saffron cake and bread in vast quantities were baked, not only for our village but delivered to many villages around. This was a family business run by Mr Alf Brimacombe and Sons. On a summer’s day large sieves of sultanas, raisins and currants were to be seen drying on the walls of the approach to the shop. Occasionally we’d run in for a pennyworth of sweets. What a decision we’d have to make!  Shall it be sweets from gleaming glass jars of ‘lambs tails’, those gaily coloured sugar-coated sweets, raspberry or lemon drops, green gob-stoppers or shining yellow sweets with sherbert in the middle.  With a deft twist of the fingers a piece of paper is miraculously turned into a cone-shaped bag and is safely tucked into the pocket of one’s apron or ‘pinny’.

A dozen or so turkeys were kept by the postmistress’s mother, a Mrs Minhinnick at the smallholding adjoining the post office. These gave much pleasure to the children as they trotted from the yard across the road into the field opposite. The chant of “Turkey, turkey show your pride” often resulted in these creatures fanning their beautiful tails.

The Southern Railway was of course our transport, fare to Tavistock then being 7½d. return and about 2 shillings return to Plymouth – a great adventure this, to spend a day at Plymouth. If trains coming from the Tavistock direction could be heard more clearly than when they were coming in the direction of Lydford, we knew rain was on the way, the wind was ‘back’. But the sound from trains being more pronounced on the ‘upward track’ meant the wind was ‘up’ and colder, drier weather was imminent.

Mail for the Post Office arrived and was despatched by train and was carried to and fro by various people over the years. I think the ‘mail trains’ were the 7.10am and 8.20pm.  I well remember a character of sterling worth, a Mrs Polly Medland, carrying the mail bags over her shoulder. All letters were sorted here and outgoing mail was franked at the post office.  The only public telephone was in the corner of the Post Office and was probably only used in cases of extreme urgency. One postman, a Mr Daniel Cooke, was also the village cobbler. What a collection of footwear on his bench in his tiny shop near the Methodist Chapel. Boots of all sizes lie there and a few ladies shoes, maybe some leggings which needed a new strap or a buckle stitched on. Even with a mouthful of tacks the cobbler could carry on a conversation with anyone who cared to call, a childish mind often wondered what disaster would befall if he sneezed and tacks slid into his throat instead of outwards!  Mr Cooke had a fine voice and sung many a solo at Christian Endeavour meetings held next door. A connection between soles and souls perhaps?  Many years before he proudly led the Village Band in a procession around the village – before my time alas!

Just along the road lived our coal merchant, here he comes with the coal waggon drawn by a Shire horse named ‘Flower’, the waggon is empty so no doubt a truck of coal is in the sidings at tho Station waiting to be shovelled, weighed and ‘bagged up’ Probably a local lad will be helping to do this on a Saturday or during the school holidays and be a ‘study in black and white’ by the end of the day and be bathed in a large zinc bath in front of the fire or range, the water for this having most likely to be heated in kettles and saucepans, water is obtained from the rain water butt if there has been rain recently, otherwise carried from the chute, there being no mains water.

This reminds me of the familiar sight of families carrying water in baths and buckets on Saturdays in preparation for washing day on Monday – nothing was done on the Sabbath but what was strictly necessary – this meant many trips up and down the village and before coppers came into use all water for washing was heated on a kitchen range which shone and twinkled having regularly been cleaned with black-lead and plenty of elbow grease! Clothes wore washed in zinc baths and wooden tubs or trays as some were called. Before the water was thrown away after the clothes, house and bed linen was washed, everything needing a scrub was well and truly scrubbed i.e. the kitchen table, chopping board, breadboard, rolling pin, the wooden stairs and lastly the stone floor, no water was ever wasted and at the end of this performance all the water had to be carried to a drain for disposal.   Sheets and pillow-slips dried in the fresh air and sunshine had a fragrance unknown to linen dried in the tumble driers of today.

The blacksmith’s shop was a popular meeting place of farmers, here children would revel in seeing sparks flying from the fire as iron for horse shoes was heated in it and the ringing sound of the iron being hammered into shape on the anvil could be heard in our homes. The butchers’ shop always seemed a busy place, housewives as ever purchasing meat to cook wholesome meals for families, no doubt some went into pasties, with swede turnip, onion and potato for the men of the household to carry for their sustenance during their long working day. Many men were farm labourers, some worked on the railway and others at the stone quarries between Mary Tavy and Tavistock. Milk was not delivered, it, could be bought from the numerous smallholdings. Families employed by Mr Frank Ward of Burnville had free milk. In fine weather one walked through the path fields and along the drive to Burnville House where a cheery house-maid, kitchen maid or cook would fill the enamel or aluminium can with scald milk. Nothing ever tasted so good, on a hot summer day as a long drink of this drunk from the lid of the can on the return journey! Butter was also supplied. It really was the golden hue of buttercups and shaped into a round and always a print on the top.  One being of thistle flowers and another of St Michaels’ Church on Brent Tor. What a delight it was to play in the fields when it was harvest time.  Beautiful horses pulled the hay waggons which were piled high with hay and laughing, carefree children.    What is now our Sports Field was then allotments, the pride and joy of many men in the village.    A field at Burn Lane vas used as a ‘football field’.   Brentor had a good football team and cups they ton were proudly displayed in the butchers’ shop window.  A carpenter and undertaker lived at Burn Lane, I think at one time there was a blacksmith’s shop there also, probably before there was one in the village itself.

What a joy it was for children to see a rather dilapidated Trojan chugging through the lanes of the village. Here comes our local Dr.  Yes, he’s waving and stops to invite some lucky youngsters to accompany him on his rounds, if going near another village shop this is sure to mean there will be a packet of sweets or a bar of chocolate to enjoy while travelling. A Beloved Physician he was, in later years a Doctor from Tavistock was heard to remark that Dr. Postlethwaite had probably forgotten much more than some medical men ever knew. Having a Doctor and an Undertaker in the village inhabitants were ‘hatched and dispatched’ without outside help!

Large congregations met each Sunday at Christ Church and the Methodist Chapel and children went regularly to Sunday School.  The highlight of the year being the Sunday School Outing.  Before the charabanc and later buses, coaches were booked on a train for this annual event and we were transported to either Exmouth, Paignton, Torquay or Teignmouth for the day.  Many a petition for fine weather wafted heavenwards before this great day and pennies were saved for weeks before the day arrived.

The road to the station was sheltered by high hedges on both sides as was the road from the village to ‘Squire’s Corner’ – now ‘Whitfield Corner’ – Violets, campions, herb rolust, primroses, celendines, ‘policemens buttons’ grew in abundance in these hedgerows and masses of foxgloves, those stately flowers like trumpets seemed always to have bees busily burying in and out of them. Wild strawberries grew in profusion too and beautiful yellow hammers were seen year after year in the latter lane. Winter brought its own particular delights. There were school concerts, what excitement and pleasure to recite or sing to a packed schoolroom and to be up and about at 9.30 p.m. – 10 p.m. a rare treat indeed.  ‘Early to bed and early to rise’ was the order of the day.  There were several talented families in the village who produced concerts from time to time, with sketches, solos, duets, violin playing and pianoforte solos and duets. Boys and men spent winter evening in the Reading Room (now the Village Hall) playing darts, billiards etc. and newspapers were delivered there daily for anyone’s perusal. The School, Reading Room and the Methodist Chapel were all heated by slow combustion stoves.   An engraved tortoise adorned the top.   What heat came from those stoves, the urge to roast chestnuts on them was ever present!

Each year prior to Christmas bands of carol singers walked miles, carrying lanterns to guide them along roads and sometimes fields, very often receiving hospitality at houses.  Snow meant snowball fights and the building of snowmen and for the adventerous sliding across frozen ponds in the fields and also on the stretch of water on the moors just above Wortha Farm.   A Mr Boney lived at Blacknor Park and was a Watchmaker and one of his sons carried on an electrical engineering business there.

With the strong winds of March shouts of delight rang across the moors as youngsters gathered there for ‘Swailing’ – the burning of gorse – Oh, the fun to be had running from bush to bush with strips of flaming newspaper, It was a grand sight from the village, this red inferno which crept across the moors. Little regard was given to the ugly black patches which remained until Mother Nature took a hand and covered it in green as the year went on.

Cottages were occupied in some instances by the same families for generations and a great sense of neighbourliness abounded. Sorrows and joys were shared and in an emergency of any kind help Was readily given. How fortunate we were to live in such an atmosphere of peace and contentment.  This is particularly remembered by recalling Sunday summer evenings when people stood or sat outside their homes and listened to the peal of bells from St Michaels ringing across the countryside before and after the evening service.  May they ring for future generations and our little village remain secure guarded by the sentinel of Brent Tor on one side and Gibbett Hill and the majestic Tors on the other.

STELLA CLARINGBOLD