Memories of Mervyn Upton
28th August, 1930 ~ 29th November, 2012
Father had been a keen footballer and played for Eastville Park Methodists at inside left. One season (1926/27), the team won two sets of medals.
I was brought up to play various games and when about 8 years old, received my first football boots and leather ball.
‘Games’ were enjoyed in Eastville Park and I was keen to play for Eastville Junior School but the outbreak of war prevented this.
At Cotham, when, at last, regular football games were held, cliques ensured I only played in form and house second teams. In my final year I did play in a trial match for places in school XIs but was not successful as I was not good enough for the 1st or 2nd XIs. By this time I had other winter sporting activities, playing rugby for Cleve Juniors, Cotham School second XV and Old Cothamians second and third XVs.
At cricket I was a defensive batsman, unable to bowl but kept wicket. My first game for the school was for the 3rd XI against Bristol Technical School 1st XI. Their batsmen slaughtered our bowlers but I managed to stump one. Then their bowlers slaughtered our batsmen and, when I went in, the score was 26-8. Time was on our side and I played out the game, walking off with 2 not out.
The next visit to the ground was with the 2nd XI. In our team was PG, a very fast (fastest in the school) but erratic bowler. He hit one poor lad to bits – his cap went one way, his glasses and bat others and he fell backwards, flattening his stumps. We picked him up, put the bits back together and helped him off the field. This game we won easily.
I played in the 2nd XI for two seasons and, eventually, had one game in the 1st XI. I kept wicket and usually opened the batting – not to score runs but to stay and wear out the opening bowlers so that the real batsmen could come in and make runs.
In one game, against St Brendan’s, the home side made a good score and I had orders from the captain, BB, to stay there. I did and was still there when time was called 100 minutes later. My score was 14, including 4 overthrows. The popular Mr W.H Coleman was the enthusiastic master in charge of the team.
After the war, Cleve Rugby Club was reformed and, in 1946, a Junior XV was planned. CR, the son of one of the club officials, was a school friend who invited me to join. I turned up on the appropriate Saturday afternoon to find about thirty boys, mostly from Alexandra Park School, were milling about. Selection was made and I found myself playing at blindside wing forward – a position I had not filled before but at which I represented Cleve for the next two seasons.
The first game was against a tough Whitehall team. At half time, their coach replaced those not playing well and those who looked tired with fresh replacements. (About 50 years before, this became legal in the Laws!). Despite this we were able to obtain a 3-3 draw.
In my final year at school, I was selected to play in the rugby trial and was delighted to be picked for the 2nd XV in, yet another, new position – left wing three-quarter. I managed to score a try in our first fixture, Cathedral School 1st XV, and we went on to win all our games. I scored a total of 6 tries. Late in the season, we played against the school 1st XV and beat them 6-3….lots of red faces including those of the staff! The team was well led by Ray Jarman and the pack contained Jeff Wright (a very good hooker), Jim Hannam (6ft 5in) in the second row supported by several six-footers, so there was plenty of ball for the backs. Des Smith, a very bright lad, was scrum half with Fred Shaw…a small but elusive outside half. Don Hall was a good goal kicker. Curiously, there was no single master in charge and we were accompanied by three members of staff on different occasions.
After Christmas, the non-soccer players were invited to join the ‘Old Cothamians RFC’ to play in a 3rd XV led by Norman Parsons, an old Bristol player. We found ourselves up against much stronger, mature players and only one match was won. An unusual smell was discovered in the scrums – beer! Much of it from our side!
Few games were played but the last one was memorable. I had just left the RAF and was enjoying my terminal leave before I went to college. One Friday evening I went to EPMC to meet old friends when two strangers entered wondering if we had a football team and could they play us on the morrow. A quick consultation was made and I found myself picked as goalkeeper. The match was to be played on a pitch near Speedwell’s Territorial Army buildings. We were asked to supply a referee and we chose someone who knew virtually nothing about the rules of the game. During the match it became obvious that the opposing team contained several very good youngsters and an older centre forward whose frequent fouls went unpunished. At half-time we were 1-0 in arrears and it was necessary to make changes to improve our performance. I left goal and became centre half to deal with the infringing centre forward. Soon after the start of the second half he fouled me so he would have to receive suitable treatment. The next time he had the ball, I clattered him in a way that a competent referee would have, in these days, produced a red card. As he staggered to his feet I quietly informed him that, if he continued to foul, he could get seriously hurt! My subterfuge worked and there was no more foul play from him. Later we managed to score a goal and the game ended as a 1-1 draw.
Finally, I did manage to obtain football trophies. Norman Preece encouraged me to form a team at Glenfrome Primary School. In the seasons 1975-76 and 18981-82, the boys won the local league and I have two small shields to commemorate these events.
I remember being taken to Eastville Stadium at an early age (6 or 7) to see the Rovers Reserves against Queen’s Park Rangers. Rovers lost 3-0. A few more visits were made before the war.
After the war, the Rovers attempted to re-establish themselves and matches were arranged against local sides to discover new talent. Among those found were George Petherbridge and Vic Lowden who served the club during their professional lives.
I occasionally watched Bristol Rovers.
My last visit to the ground was on a Wednesday afternoon in the mid-fifties (during half term holiday!). Lincoln were the opponents and, in the first half, Rovers outplayed them and led 3-0. Second half was different. It was clear that the Rovers were satisfied with their lead and virtually no effort was made to increase it. I felt robbed and never attended another of their matches.
Later, Father acquired a season ticket for the Grandstand and, for many years, rarely missed a game.
I began stamp collecting in 1937 when aged about six and a half. I believe my cousin, Geoffrey Wall, gave me some of my first specimens that I collected in a cereal packet. As I seemed keen, I was bought a 6d XLCR album from Elmgrove Post Office, Fishponds. They also sold packets at 20 f0r 1d. Stamps were obtained from relatives, friends and swapping with schoolmates. Soon the collection grew and the album was replaced by an XLCR1s and then by a loose leaf one.
The first stamp shop visited was in Bristol’s Upper Arcade (destroyed November 1940) when 100 British Empires were acquired. Other stamp shops visited were at Weymouth and Weston-Super-Mare. Woolworth’s sold packets and stamps from exotic countries such as Tannou Touva (Tuva), Liberian and Ethiopian could be obtained and they also stocked packets of 1937 Coronation issues. Various newsagents stocked stamps, the nearest one to home being Nelson’s on Fishponds Road.
As a reward for passing the scholarship exam for Cotham, I was allowed to have ‘Gibbon’s Stamp Monthly’ at 4d per issue (still being obtained at £3.50)
I was also given the current edition of ‘Stanley Gibbon’s Stamp Catalogue’. In those days it was a single volume at about ten shillings (50p). Now it’s a five-volume production costing £199.95!
New sources of supply now appeared - other boys and the Courier Stamp Co in Christmas Steps. The owner was named Parsons.
About 1948, considerably more editions were appearing that were beyond the means of the school-boy, so the collecting ceased. The albums were stowed away, possibly for future use.
About 1956, after the RAF service and College, collecting re-commenced. The Courier Stamp Co was still in Christmas Steps and postal orders could be made to dealers in other parts of the country. Eventually Ural Harris took over the Christmas Steps shop and they were replaced by West Region Stamps owned by the genial Graham. I began going to Stamp Fairs, not only in Bristol (initially the Corn Exchange) but in Bath, Weston-Super-Mare and Staverton. Many of these were organised by an old school friend, John Symes. Later, two new dealers were visited, Dave Winston (ex Sefton Park) in Bath and Dick Wynne in The Corn Exchange. Dick is a genuine character, appearing to be rude to his regular customers but really a ‘pussy cat’ with a deep knowledge of philately. Visits to him are always interesting and lively.
Initially I, like all the youngsters, collected stamps from the wide world. Gradually interests changed to the British Commonwealth and Europe. Mounting numbers of issues reduced interest in the Commonwealth to issues before 1966 and to five European countries (now reduced to two). I believe the collection is now housed in about 100 albums!
Every year, the Old Cothamians RFC would organise a trip to Twickenham to view an international match. A coach (usually WEMS of Clevedon) would leave Bristol early on Saturday morning. In those days, before the M4 motorway was constructed, we travelled on the A4. A coffee stop was made at Marlborough. There would be coaches bearing other rugby clubs and frequently friends would be encountered. Lunch would be taken at places to the West of London – Staines, Windsor, Wokingham, Maidenhead - before proceeding to the match.
One year a prestigious BBC interviewer was in action at Wokingham. He did not appreciate the comments of ‘the lads’ so moved off. I do not remember his name. For the match, the club did not receive a block of tickets. We were distributed around the ground in small groups. I usually sat with John Hamilton which had a great advantage…he always shared his blanket with me.
After the match, we slowly reassembled in the coach. One year, one of the lads brought his newly acquired wife (wives and girlfriends were usually in the party). While waiting, she asked several of the younger members what they would do in London. She was utterly disgusted to hear they were going to Soho to visit a strip club. They then told her that, during last year’s trip, one of the party was so drunk that he fell when he emerged from the strip club. She was absolutely appalled that an Old Cothamian could behave so badly. Her husband was getting redder and redder. He was the one whose actions were being described but she did not discover this!
Reaching London, the party split into two. The wild element dashed off to Soho and the older element went to St Stephen’s Restaurant, Bridge Street Westminster, facing the Houses of Parliament. To save time, we would all choose the same menu. Then to a theatre. Shows I remember seeing include ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Paint your Wagon’, The Pyjama Game’, ‘London Laughs’ and a Whitehall Theatre farce.
Once, after a show, a few of us wandered into Greek Street, Soho. A group of drunks had just been ejected from a pub and were performing in the middle of the road. As we approached they shouted at us…it was a group of Cothamians!!
The journey home was quiet. Everyone slept or dozed. Blankets appeared and Arthur Claridge changed into slippers. A stop was made at a transport café in the Theale area, the only place open on the A4 at that time in the morning. The needy left for the toilet or a cup of tea. The car park was potholed and, therefore, there was often a series of icy patches. The owner chain-smoked and filled cups from a three-spouted tea pot. The sleepy but happy party usually reached Bristol between 3 and 4am.
In the mid-1950s, the old Cothamians RFC, like other local clubs, was often short of money. This was before the era of clubhouses whose bars made clubs financially secure. The incidents recorded are not in chronological order.
At the start of the season, the OCRFC was in need of money. The committee discussed the situation and someone suggested a jumble sale. Someone else suggested St Peter’s Hall, Henleaze could be hired. It was pointed out that the people of Henleaze did not buy goods at jumble sales and, perhaps,
St Paul’s might be a more profitable area.
A booking was made for a hall at St Paul’s, Portland Square and preparations were made. Wives, girlfriends, mothers and sisters were recruited to assist sorting on the Thursday and sale on the Friday. Father offered the service of his lorry. After dropping Mother and Carole at the venue, he then visited various homes where jumble had to be collected. Trevor Priest, possibly the brightest of club members, always joined us on our journeys. Often we picked up another member. Father was touched when Chris McCarthy asked him to stop the lorry outside the chip shop to buy him a portion of chips. There were a few memorable incidents to record…
On one foggy evening, Father drove straight over a large roundabout in Broad Walk, Knowle!
Once we were asked to collect a piano from a third floor room with instructions not to damage the new paintwork on the stairs. After much effort, the task was impossible so we returned it to its original position.
We visited Alan Heywards home in Southmead Road. Trevor and I went to the door and Father stayed at the garden gate. Alan’s father seemed rather reluctant to hand over the jumble but we collected it and returned to
St Paul’s. Later that evening, Alan arrived and sought me to enquire if his jumble had arrived safely. I assured him that Trevor and I had collected it. He said his father was not sure about handing it over…the two who came to the door seemed alright but the one at the gate looked like a rag-and-bone man. Father was not pleased!!! However, he was delighted to be thanked by so many of the club members for his services.
Ray Pepworth, then Club Treasurer, lived in a flat with his wife Jean, at Hampton Road, Cotham. When we collected the jumble, Jean would travel with us to St Paul’s. One year we managed to smuggle Ray’s bike onto the lorry. Initially he was delighted to see such a fine machine for sale…until he realised it was his own! After Sally was born, Jean did not attend the sorting evening but the flat was still a depot. We managed to get the pram out of the house…with Sally in it!
Stan Norman, whose parents owned a second-hand furniture shop in Gloucester Road, was given charge of furniture and splendidly displayed his wares with suitable slogans.
Friday evening and we arrived at the hall to prepare for ‘our customers’. There was a crowd awaiting our opening. When the doors opened there was a rush to find the bargains. Clothes, knick-knacks and furniture were popular items to purchase. The intellectual David Mapstone was placed in charge of the book stall…and did no trade so, in sheer desperation, as people left they were presented with suitable volumes and the advice that it would be good for them to read. Furniture would be ‘delivered’ after the sale. The lads would push the items through the streets to the cheers of the inhabitants.
Finally, the hall was tidied with the surplus often passed onto another jumble sale. Ray was counting the cash and would triumphantly announce the profit - £25 to £30, sufficient to keep the club financially secure for another year.
Mother and Father enjoyed the opportunity to meet and come to know the people I had spoken about for many years.
The Tour of Ireland Cycle Race
Twice I witnessed the Tour of Ireland Cycle Race. The first time was either in 1960 or 1962. I was staying at The Park Hotel, Killarney and was participating in a day trip in the hotel’s minibus. We stopped at Sneem on the Ring of Kerry for refreshments and had to wait until the riders passed through. They had to pass over a narrow bridge and the local Garda attempted to clear the bridge of spectators. The locals ignored them. Their car, with loudspeaker blaring, passed to and fro. In sheer desperation, the Garda began to name individuals. However, when the riders arrived, the locals had taken their places, sitting on the parapet of the bridge. I don’t think any of my fellow holiday makers were impressed by the race and several complained about staying too long in a dull place like Sneem.
In 1969 and 1971, Janet and I visited Ireland. A car was hired to enable us to explore the countryside. I do not remember the year in which this incident occurred ~
We stopped, mid-afternoon, for refreshments. Janet enjoyed cups of tea and found they were essential for her safe driving. We stopped at a quiet café where the only customers were three ladies, one of them a nun. They conversed in Irish – the only time I heard the language spoken in public.
When we resumed our journey, we noticed the roads were particularly quiet, even by the standards of rural Ireland at the time. In fact, there was no other traffic. We were aware that we, occasionally, passed small groups of people waiting at the roadside. We drove on and then a car with blazing headlights approached us with its loudspeaker blaring. We were unable to comprehend what was being said to us. Behind the car came about six racing cyclists. Janet waited a moment and then drove on. There were hedges on either side of the road. We came to a sharp right bend…
And there, before us were…
Masses of, perhaps a hundred or so, cyclists!
Janet stopped instantly and the cyclists slowed and carefully filed past us. Fortunately there were no collisions or spills but their expressions indicated they were not pleased to encounter us. After a while we continued our journey, passing a few individual riders. Later, we heard on Radio Eireann that the authorities had heard that the IRA was planning to disrupt the race!!! …This must have happened in 1971 when we stayed at Inchigeelagh.