Portrait of a Parish - Page 21

Reminiscences of Stan Wicks - Early 1900's

I was born at number five Tucking Mill Cottages, October 8th 1910. My mother was Lavinia Owen, daughter of Isaac Owen, who then lived at Canal Cottage, Monkton Combe. My father was William Wicks, son of William Wicks of Vine Cottage, Monkton Combe.

I was one of five brothers and sisters, and when a new member was added to our growing family a strange lady would come from over the hill to take care of us. We called her Aunt Nellie. She was a a bit strict and kept all available food for mealtimes. No bread pudding or baked crab-apples were to be eaten between meals. On Sundays we were told to put on our workaday rags and only changed into our best to attend Sunday school, presided over by the Reverend Warrington.

Tucking Mill was indeed a fairyland to be born into. The brook burbled contentedly past the bottom of the garden. The Great Western Railway, clearly seen from our front door, provided us with the spectacle of steam engines drawing coal trucks to and fro at regular intervals. Now and again a motor train would hurry by with a few passengers. Our other railway, The Somerset and Dorset, comes into view halfway down Twinhoe Hill, passing over the Midford Viaduct into Midford Station. The medley of sound created on a stormy night, with an express leaving the station and attacking the gradient was an orchestration of magic. The steam train started with a piping whistle and roared along the embankment in an ever increasing crescendo of sound, quietening momentarily through a cutting, it burst forth again over Tucking Mill Viaduct, then with a wailing whistle plunged into the black, forbidding Combe Down tunnel with an earthquake rumble and was gone, leaving the Midford Castle peacocks and the elements to finish the piece.

Living conditions at this time were rudimentary. The water supply did come out of a tap, but it only came across the canal from the spring. It was similar to life in a caravan. Water had to be carried in buckets and a slop pail was always available for tea leaves and washing up water and probably went on the garden. The toilet was a double seated affair and had a drain to the brook that needed plenty of water from the tap fifty yards away. The big houses were worse off, having a bucket under a seat in some dingy corner. The water had to be carried from the spring. There were no services other than the telephone to Tucking Mill House. Illumination was by oil lamps and candles. Heating and cooking was done by coal fire. The oven situated at the side of the fire grate was lukewarm one side and red hot the other. Consequently in the process of cooking, food burned one side and it was necessary to turn it round and but it the other side to make certain it was cooked in the middle.

My parents were education on a two pence a week basis in a small school at the top of Mill Lane, Monkton Combe. The education was elementary and enabled them to read and write and to count the few shillings of survival. Mother endeavoured to clothe us, making use of any material available. With her hand cranking machine she would stitch together bits she had salvaged from adult garments to make up something to fit us kids. She also needed to be a magician in relation to food. The status symbol in those days was the big iron pot. Into this went cheap cuts of meat, whole rabbits cut up and bones of many sorts and every kind of vegetable. With a suitable quantity of liquid it would simmer away and provide food for the whole family. Father was very good at trapping rabbits and admitted to having been a bit of a poacher in his time. He was also good at using a scythe. It was a sight worth seeing when a number of men kitted out with whetstones in leather carriers attached to their belts, set out to mow a field. Each one, a convenient distance behind the other, would swing their blades in unison and cut swathe after swathe until the job was done - a veritable work of art.

Stan Wicks: page 21 - page 22 - page 23

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